I belong to several lists and message boards, and one of them is the Humanist List on Yahoo. It never ceases to amaze me as I read others’ posts how many middle class “liberals” look down their regal noses at the poor while claiming a moral high ground over their neocon counterparts who do the same thing. Whenever classism rears its ugly head, I call it out just like I would for racism and sexism.
One pro-Obama Democrat on the Humanist list, “Scotty”, a luckily employed medical professional who also happens to be a much older woman, had this to say regarding America’s poor and permanently economically excluded and the current austerity measures being imposed that will cause the deaths of millions of Americans struggling below poverty in post-welfare reform America:
“It’s a no brainer that people are going to want the rich to pay more rather than themselves. And I can certainly understand not wanting to create welfare parasites. But I can’t understand the gleeful willingness of the right to let nearly 10% of this countries citizens fall into a pit because they can’t get jobs.”
Fighting for social justice means confronting classism and calling people out who are class bigots. This was my response to “Scotty”:
You know Scotty, I really take umbrage to your classism and bigotry against the poor in your referring to this country’s least fortunate as “welfare parasites.” You want to call poor people names who got nothing but beat down into the ground and kept down all their life without ever getting a chance no matter how hard they tried? Here’s some food for thought:
This country, with the help of a lot of middle class voters, DID create a class of “welfare parasites” — the filthy stinking rich. And they did it WILLINGLY because they thought there was something in it for them in this “ownership society!” The middle class supported with their votes a neoliberal corporatist agenda these last 30 years which led us to this precipice.
The welfare parasites are the economic cannibal class on Wall Street — not the poor at the very bottom who had been economically excluded and kept down in a permanent underclass in a country where there NEVER was 100% full employment, NEVER enough living wage jobs to go around for everybody in need of a job.
About 400 government programs qualify as “entitlements.” Most of the recipients are in the middle and upper classes. Yet, middle and upper class people resent meager entitlements for the poor.
It is the middle and upper classes that have benefited the most from entitlements. Telecommunications, the Internet, and other technologies were all made possible through research and development that was funded by public tax dollars which provided the at-risk capital to for-profit privately owned companies that kept all the profits.
Many who have enjoyed good jobs had employers that got “welfare handouts” in terms of tax exclusions, tax credits, price supports, loan guarantees, payments in kind, export subsidies, subsidized insurance premiums, marketing services, irrigation and reclamation programs, “enterprise zone” tax-exempt real estate, and research and development grants — benefiting middle class members of the professional/managerial class by proxy.
When it comes to entitlement attitudes, middle and upper class people think they’re the only ones deserving of health care, educations, good jobs, and decent lives — claiming that nobody ever gave them anything, they “did it all on their own.” Did it on their own my ass.
There’s nothing as obtuse as the blindness of unearned privilege. A society that throws its poor, its excluded, and its discriminated against and marginalized to the wolves while guaranteeing wealth protection for the rich shields a lot of affluent people and corporations from having to compete in order to make money. This has had a deleterious effect on our economy, and on our society.
While middle class voters screech about “socialism” and called for the elimination of what few meager handouts existed for the poor, they conveniently ignored that socialist VA or FHA loan that helped them (or their parents) buy a nice house.
They forgot about that socialist GI Bill that opened doors of opportunity for their fathers that were not made available to poor women and minorities and poor non-veterans who also deserved a chance, and whose claims and needs in this society were equally valid.
They never mention the “handout” of a mortgage interest deduction that puts an average of $1,900 a year into the pockets of those lucky enough to have good jobs to able to afford to buy their own home.
Many were employed by the “Big Three” auto makers and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin which got billions in public “handouts” in the 1980′s and 1990′s, benefiting middle class employees by proxy.
They overlook how social security enables senior citizens to survive rather than forcing them to financially support their elderly parents.
In 1990, nearly one third of all veterans’ benefits went to households with incomes above $50,000, as did one fourth of all unemployment benefits, one third of all federal civil service retirement pensions, and one half of all military pensions. Meanwhile, only one fourth of federal entitlements went to those at the very bottom who were economically discarded and unable to sell their labor in the market— the poor.
Slightly more than half of all US households have at least one member who is receiving a direct entitlement benefit from the federal government in the form of federal civil service pensions, veterans’ disability benefits, and veterans’ pensions. These households will collect on average about $2.4 trillion by the end of 2010.
They complain about paying for poor kids’ subsidized school breakfasts and lunches, but they’re silent about everyone else’s taxes funding school choice vouchers for theirs.
They object to subsidized housing for the poor who are financially excluded from the housing market, but have no problem reaping the benefits from taxpayer-subsidized federal flood insurance for their beachfront homes that no private insurance company would insure. Former president George Herbert Walker Bush benefited enormously from the federal flood insurance program when his vacation home in Maine sustained approximately $400,000 in storm damage in 1991.
The “entitlement” or “welfare handout” that everyone ignores is the $250 billion dollar a year tax subsidy for employer-sponsored health insurance. This history of tying health insurance to employment goes back to World War II when the government enacted wage controls. Employers were competing for workers and began offering health insurance because they couldn’t offer higher wages than a competing employer. For some reason, this was not treated as taxable income to the employee.
Middle class people who stockpile money in Healthcare Savings Accounts (HSA’s) also get a line item tax deduction on their income taxes. So those who have their good jobs with health benefits and/or HSA’s are getting theirs at the expense of all citizens — including the poor who aren’t getting any access to medical, dental, and vision care.
The idea that someone’s misfortune stems from a lack of personal responsibility assumes that everyone has the same opportunities in life and that the poor squandered theirs. This is a common sentiment among right-wing middle and upper class white males that have always gotten everything by making damn sure that POOR women and minorities got nothing, while having the moxy to crow about how “they worked for it.”
Middle class Tea Partiers and “patriots” brandishing expensive assault rifles terrorized other citizens at Townhall meetings during the healthcare reform discourse, yelling that they refused to “pay for someone else’s” health care. Those who begrudge the “undeserving poor” access to health care because they don’t want to “pay for someone else” are getting subsidized while depriving the poor by refusing to extend that subsidy to everyone in the name of “freedom.” Freedom to starve or freeze to death, or become disabled or die from being unable to afford medical care is no freedom at all. The backlash against real healthcare reform was never about “freedom.” It’s really about a false sense of superiority and classism.
Belligerent middle and upper class spoiled brats denouncing “socialism” and “welfare handouts” for the poor have benefited far more from “socialism” than the poor ever have. And not one tantrum-throwing “self-made man” squawking about entitlements for the poor is willing to give their middle class job to someone in poverty that never got a chance so they could have a good job, thus reducing the number of those on the public dole whom they denigrate as “welfare parasites.”
Corporate executives feel entitled to the tens of millions of dollars in salaries, stocks, and “golden parachutes” even if they steal from their companies and cause a national, or even a global, economic collapse. Poor people who kite checks to buy food or rob a 7-Eleven go to prison. CEOs get rich; poor people get the stinky finger.
Banksters and Wall Street crooks walked away with fortunes during the 1980′s S & L scandal while the taxpayers paid the $500 billion dollar bailout tab. Thanks to Reagan’s deregulation of the S & L industry, S & L’s were allowed to take any investment risk they wanted with depositors’ money with the understanding that any failures or bad debts would be subsidized by the public. 90% of those who were depositors had accounts worth more than $100,000.
US companies got $1 billion from the public dole through USAID from 1985 – 1995 to pay for shipping US jobs overseas to cheaper labor markets. USAID provided low-interest loans, tax exemptions, travel and training funds, advertising, and “black lists” to weed out union sympathizers and organizers in other countries.
In 1995, over 40% of USDA subsidies and farm payments went to farmers with a net worth in excess of $750,000. Meanwhile, those of us on food stamps and/or WIC are begrudged nutritious food.
While Congress held hearings on “welfare dependency” and the impact of the “culture of poverty” on unjustly enriched “welfare queens”, no hearings were held on the middle and upper class entitlement mentality regarding all the handouts they benefit from.
Do you have a 401(k)? If any of your portfolio’s holdings include bank instruments, municipal bonds, Ginnie Mae’s, or CD’s, you’re being enriched directly as the result of entitlement programs that have supported and bailed out those “malefactors of great wealth” that are privately owned. “Self-made” members of the investor class did not get theirs on their own. They got it off the backs of everyone else.
Any appreciation in your retirement portfolio’s value from capital gains and increased dividend payouts on stocks came directly as a result of corporations realizing huge profits by “cutting costs” — a euphemism for slashing wages, benefits and permanently eliminating jobs.
Those most likely to suffer from job loss, reduced wages and lost benefits are workers over age 40, who have been rendered permanently unemployable and have fallen into poverty after long-term joblessness due to age, gender, race, looks, and socio-economic class discrimination. Did you snipe at them for being on food stamps because you “worked for everything you got?”
Newsflash for the middle class: You didn’t “earn” that wealth in your 401(k) or other stock portfolio. You got it at the expense of others’ loss.
Have you thanked capitalism’s “losers” for your economic success? No need for accolades, just support the restoration of something resembling a real safety net for those at the very bottom who got the least in terms of opportunity and societal benefits in “free enterprise” America — and whose exclusion ensured your place on the socio-economic ladder.
Middle class voters were silent about welfare for the rich while they elected politicians who slashed meager subsistence benefits and other social programs that helped the poor. They cried foul about preferential jobs placement programs for the disadvantaged under CETA and Affirmative Action while they benefited from the biggest preferential job placement program of their own: middle class “good ole boy” nepotism.
The middle class supported Welfare Reform because they wanted to force poor women with children to get jobs, so long as it wasn’t their middle class jobs.
The rich, who clamored for “free market” capitalism in a competitive society, resorted to calling upon government to enrich them through tariffs, public subsidies, land grants, government contracts, and other “welfare handouts.”
But hey, the poor mother raising a child or two without getting a goddamn dime in child support from the co-conceiver isn’t doing anything (because we all know that caretaking, raising the future generation, and homemaking isn’t “real” work, right?) while some guy day-trading stocks or speculating on commodities, spending a couple hours a day on his laptop flipping securities “earned” his wealth because THAT is somehow “real” work while what POOR WOMEN do is not.