I’m sitting here in my rent-stabilized apartment on a winter Saturday reading the newspaper and surfing the Internet because I can’t afford to do anything else.
Despite the fact that I’m working full time (35 hours a week), despite the fact that I’m bringing lunch to work every day and cooking all my meals at home, I can’t afford to do anything because I just paid my rent and I’m literally counting the days until my next paycheck.
I should perhaps add that my current salary is the same as it was in 2008, despite the fact that the rate of inflation alone in the last seven years has been 15.3%1. Despite the fact that, in the last seven years, my rent has gone up 21%, my phone bill has gone up about 500% (because you now need a smart phone in order to function in modern society), my cable bill has gone up about 50% (because you also need a high-speed Internet connection), and the MTA is about the raise their subway fare yet again.
Despite all that, my salary has stayed the same.
And that’s assuming I’m lucky enough to even have a job, because (as I’ve gone from one temporary job to another) I’ve been unemployed for half of the last two years and may soon be unemployed again.
And yet, everywhere you look, people say the economy is doing great.
On the front page of today’s New York Times2 is the headline “After a Bounce, Wage Growth Slumps to 0.1%.” But all you ever hear about from President Obama (and even liberal commentators like Bill Maher, who should know better but doesn’t, because even he’s a millionaire) is that the economy is going gangbusters.
While “employers may have increased their payrolls by 295,000 workers in February,… job growth…was heavily concentrated in the service sector” (read low-paying jobs). And wage growth rose “only 0.1 percent.”
But the only debate you hear about in Washington is whether or not Janet Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, should raise interest rates.
How is that even a debate? And why aren’t we debating how we can create more jobs and raise wages?
The only people in Washington who have addressed this issue in even the slightest way are Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
We, the struggling middle-class of America, who have seen our standard of living decline for the last 30 years (at least since President Reagan took office and created the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people: “trickle-down-economics”), desperately need one or both of you to run for president, to reverse the downward slide that has been our reality since 1981.
And, while you’re at it, you might want to do something about the disastrous Citizens United decision that has sent our country hurtling towards plutocracy. Because, also in today’s New York Times, is an editorial about how Jeb Bush’s “fundraisers have reportedly been instructed not to ask megadonors to give more than $1 million each this quarter.”3
I could go on, but other people have written at great length and better than I have about how rising inequality in this country is a threat to our democracy. I would start by making Joseph Stieglitz’s The Price of Inequality4, Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth5, George Packer’s The Unwinding6, Barbara Garson’s Down the Up Escalator7 and Matt Taibbi’s The Divide8 required reading for every American. (I could throw in Thomas Piketty’s Capital9, for good measure, but it’s unreadable.)
But how are Americans even supposed to know how fucked over they’re getting when they’re working overtime or several jobs just to pay their bills?
Because, of all the great injustices inflicted upon this country by the Koch Brothers and their ilk, perhaps the greatest is this: the fact that in today’s America, there’s no time or energy left over for anything except survival.