Monday, September 3, 2007

Charity Kicks Justice's Ass: Rich Throw Party

Tonight I was poking around at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' website looking for some decent poverty trend data. They've done a pretty thorough job of chewing over the 2006 census info and a few other things, and the news isn't great.
  • In 2006, both the number and the percentage of Americans who are uninsured hit their highest levels since 1999, the first year for which comparable data are available, with 2.2 million more Americans — and 600,000 more children — joining the ranks of the uninsured in 2006.
  • While median income rose modestly (by 0.7 percent, or $356) for households in general, this merely brought median income back to where it stood in the 2001 recession year. In addition, median income for working-age households — those headed by someone under 65 — remained more than $1,300 below where it stood when the recession hit bottom.
  • New Commerce Department data shows that the share of national income going to wages and salaries in 2006 was at its lowest level on record, with data going back to 1929. The share of national income captured by corporate profits, in contrast, was at its highest level on record.
  • Other new data shows that income concentration, which increased in 2003 and rose sharply in 2004, jumped again in 2005. The share of pre-tax income in the nation that goes to the top 1 percent of households increased from 17.8 percent in 2004 to 19.3 percent in 2005. Only four times since World War II has the percentage of income received by the top 1 percent risen this much in a single year (in percentage point terms). One of those four times was 2004.
  • In the belaboring the obvious department, detailed new tax data shows that the federal tax system has become much less progressive over the past several decades, particularly during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Over the same several decades, pre-tax income inequality has grown as well. Thus, during a period in which economic forces have been generating increased pre-tax inequality, changes in the tax system have exacerbated rather than mitigated the widening of the income gap.
But hey, no need to worry. Americans are getting involved! According to The Corporation for National and Community Service,
Americans over the age of 16 are volunteering at historically high rates, with 61.2 million giving their time in 2006 to help others by mentoring students, beautifying neighborhoods, restoring homes after disasters, and much, much more. Although the adult volunteer rate for 2006, 26.7%, was down slightly from the 28.8% recorded from 2003-2005, a greater percentage of Americans adults are volunteering today than at any other time in the past 30 years.
And we have reason to be especially proud, because Seattle, despite our rapidly increasing income inequality and all of it's consequences for our city, is number five in the nation in volunteering, lagging only behind Austin, TX, Omaha, NE, Salt Lake City, UT, and, in the number one spot, the home of Mary Tyler Moore, Minneapolis, MN.

Also, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has found the next best thing to Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness, and it's Project Connect, a corporate friendly volunteer fest that brings resources and homeless people together to show what can happen when people roll up their sleeves and get to work. Their website now highlights a recent Project Connect in Springfield, MA, attended, of course, by Mr. Philip Mangano, and just look at these outcomes:
  • 5 veterans were housed

  • 351 applications for Section 8 and public housing were completed

  • 141 people received housing counseling

  • 76 Massachusetts IDs issued (paid for by the corporate donations)

  • 76 birth certificates ordered (paid for by the corporate donations)

  • 250 bus tickets issued

  • 70 dental screenings

  • 21 medical examinations, with 43 follow-up medical appointments made

  • 131 chair massages

  • 41 foot washes

  • 60 haircuts

  • 50 pairs of eyeglasses ordered

  • 29 Social Security/SSI applications

  • 49 MassHealth/Commonwealth Care applications

  • 29 veterans benefits applications

  • 229 employment & training contacts

  • 90 people received legal advice

  • 150 people received consumer information and advice

  • 21 people received immigration advice

  • 65 people made phone calls

  • 55 children cared for at the on-site child care center

  • 600 children's books given away

And some people say we don't have homelessness on the run!

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the more volunteerism and charity we have, the further we get away from a vision of what social justice looks like, and the more we become a society of haves and have-nots where people are too afraid, tired, hopeless, bought off, or just plain stupid to fight for anything more to the point. Charity makes the radical inequality we've grown accustomed to a bit easier to swallow, because we get to show we care.


njb said...

As long as people keep having children, one of them will be born rich and another of them will be born poor. People who do care, whether YOU want to call it charity or justice, are the only way the poor children wont be left out on doorsteps to die like they were in societies even more brutal than ours. I love your work and I love your writing, but stop making it sound like people have a choice between charity and justice, and can't be fully engaged in both. It's a false dichotomy which you only promote by elevating or denigrating either one.

David Bloom said...

Indeed, charity and justice are both important. Our problem is that there is too much reliance on charity and very little on justice. Acts of charity will never be sufficient to overcome the structural injustice that is growing in America. We may feel good and congratulate ourselves for our generous acts, but those who are poor and homeless will continue to suffer in growing numbers until we get our priorities straight as a nation and work toward systemic justice.