Two Americas

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & Deficit, Health CareLeave a Comment

As some say, the rising tide is only lifting the yachts.

The Pew Research Center reported this week that the public is quickly becoming aware of the perverse economic polarization of society:

Over the past two decades, a growing share of the public has come to the view that American society is divided into two groups, the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Today, Americans are split evenly on the two-class question with as many saying the country is divided along economic lines as say this is not the case (48% each). In sharp contrast, in 1988, 71% rejected this notion, while just 26% saw a divided nation.

The reason most Americans perceive this is because  — well, because it’s true.  Greg Ip reports:

The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks.

The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000. [. . .]

To think of this a bit more concretely, if you took a representative 100 Americans and split $5 of income between them, here’s how it would look: One guy would get $1.06, forcing the other 99 to split the remaining $3.94.  Of that $3.94, the bottom 50 would split 64 cents among themselves. The leftover $3.30 would be divvied up among the remaining 49 folks.

For an anecdotal look at the bottom 50% and how they are treated by Republicans, you can look around you (probably), or even better — read this.

UPDATE:  And E.J. Dionne, too:

The left is accused of all manner of sins related to covetousness and envy whenever it raises questions about who benefits from Bush’s tax cuts and mentions the yachts such folks might buy or the mansions they might own. But here is a family with modest possessions doing everything conservatives tell people they should do, and the right trashes them for getting help to buy health insurance for their children.

Most conservatives favor government-supported vouchers that would help Graeme attend his private school, but here they turn around and criticize him for . . . attending a private school. Federal money for private schools but not for health insurance? What’s the logic here?

Conservatives endlessly praise risk-taking by entrepreneurs and would give big tax cuts to those who are most successful. But if a small-business person is struggling, he shouldn’t even think about applying for SCHIP.

Conservatives who want to repeal the estate tax on large fortunes have cited stories — most of them don’t check out — about farmers having to sell their farms to pay inheritance taxes. But the implication of these attacks on the Frosts is that they are expected to sell their investment property to pay for health care. Why?

Oh, yes, and conservatives tell us how much they love homeownership, and then assail the Frosts for having the nerve to own a home. I suppose they should have to sell that, too.

The real issue here is whether uninsured families with earnings similar to the Frosts’ need government help to buy health coverage. With the average family policy in employer-provided plans now costing more than $12,000 annually — the price is usually higher for families trying to buy it on their own — the answer is plainly yes. All the conservative attacks on a boy from Baltimore who dared to speak out will not make this issue go away.