George Graham

Rich Country, Poor People

You might have read the headlines…

Happy Monday! S&P 500 now up 10% for year” —CNN Money
“Third-quarter U.S. economic growth strongest in 11 years” —Reuters
“The U.S. economy is on a tear” —Wall Street Journal

And you might have asked yourself what’s wrong with you, where’s your share of all this prosperity.  If you did, you are not alone.

At least half of America is broke. As in busted. Remember the old song?

My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I’m busted

That’s America today, folks. At least for many Americans. And the number keeps growing.

Paul Buchheit puts it this way in a recent article in Common Dreams:

Half of our nation, by all reasonable estimates of human need, is in poverty.

And it’s not just the poorest Americans who are feeling the pinch. The middle class is getting squeezed, too.

Buchheit explains that:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank, there have been job gains at the highest paid level — engineering, finance, computer analysis; and there have been job gains at the lowest paid level — personal health care, retail, and food preparation. 

But the jobs that kept the middle class out of poverty — education, construction, social services, transportation, administration — have seen a decline since the recession, especially in the northeast. At a national level jobs gained are paying 23 percent less than jobs lost. 

Worse yet, the lowest paid workers, those in housekeeping and home health care and food service, have seen their wages drop 6 to 8 percent (although wages overall rose about 2 percent in 2014). 

And he adds that the sufferers include a rapidly growing number of children:

There’s been a stunning 70 percent increase since the recession in the number of children on food stamps. State of Working America reported that almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

Buchheit is not the only observer warning America of this sad contrast between rich and poor. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, has been raising the alarm about income inequality for a while. Back in 2013, for example, he pointed out that:

In America today, the top 1 percent owns more than 35 percent of all of the nation’s household wealth while the bottom 60 percent owns only 2.3 percent of the wealth. The distribution of income is even worse. In 2010, 93 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom 99 percent of people accounted for the remaining 7 percent.

He added that:

We have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth, worse today in the United States than at any time since 1928 before the Great Depression.

And the BBC’s web site spotlighted the US middle class squeeze in an article last weekend by Professor Michelle Dickerson of the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Dickerson makes the case that:

Members of the middle class (as broadly defined) are struggling financially. Despite an improving economy, job creation, and overall positive economic news, they remain worried about their financial future and their children’s future.

You and I know that with the Republicans in charge of Congress and an alarming number of state legislatures, this nation is not likely to see the income gap close anytime soon. Indeed, Republican policies inevitably mean the rich will get even richer and the rest of us will lag farther and farther behind.

I wonder how long this state of affairs can persist. How long will the hungry hordes be content to gaze longingly at the groaning tables of the fortunate few?

Click for Buchheit’s article.

Click for more on the middle class squeeze.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for