Posts Tagged ‘class envy’

Jobless Women, the Economically Disappeared, Betrayed by Progressives and Petty Bourgeoisie Feminists Again

August 5, 2011

By Jacqueline S. Homan, author: Classism for Dimwits and Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie

The middle class “feminists” who claim to be allies of their poorest and most downtrodden “sisters” haven’t a clue what a poor woman’s daily struggle in deep poverty is like.

Even the most generous, non-materialistic middle class “allies” of America’s poorest women refused to comprehend or accept the poor welfare mother’s preoccupation with their very urgent and pressing need for money.

Most of these so-called allies, who have never lived the savage realities of destitution and being among the ranks of America’s economically disappeared, viewed poor women’s concerns about money as an “entitlement mentality.”

Petty bourgeois feminists referred to poor single mothers as “con artists” who wanted to get money for “doing nothing”, accusing poor women of “only getting pregnant for the welfare check” — buying into the sexist, patriarchal capitalist idea that pregnancy and childbirth is “nothing” for women to go through even though pregnancy and childbirth complications still kill more women in the US than in many other countries, and that the unpaid work that women have always traditionally done is “nothing”; that home-making, care-taking or child-raising isn’t “work.”

What care-takers do IS work — just ask anyone who has ever had to choose between their McJob or their sick child, or forego a job search in order to take care of an aging parent or a terminally ill spouse (or domestic partner). And mothers need a hell of a lot more than a cheap box of chocolates and a ten cent Mothers’ Day card. Poor women need money.

Yet, because of being sold out or abandoned altogether by Eurocentric middle class feminists, America’s poorest of the poor — women on welfare (before Welfare Reform eliminated AFDC and reduced benefits) — found themselves in situations where those who didn’t have to live with the consequences of “pragmatism” and political “compromise” were the ones defining the situation.

There’s a huge difference between the slightly better off working class guy in temporary poverty who just needs a job and a chronically poor woman who has been out of the job market for many years, serving as a care-giver or as a sole parent. Care-givers and mothers really need, and deserve, an adequate income.

Yet, as the Reagan Revolution’s War on the Poor right along up to Clinton’s Welfare Reform Act, which was driven by most middle class “feminists”, each subsequent part of “welfare reform” grew more punitive as America’s poorest women were told by suburban-dwelling soccer mom feminists who claimed to be allies, that poor women on welfare had to be “pragmatic” because “compromise” via benefit reductions and 2-5 year time limits coupled with “work requirements” were necessary. But all of those pragmatic “compromises” were no compromise at all because America’s poorest women got nothing but subjected to economic terrorism with a proverbial gun pointed right at our heads. We gained nothing at all, and lost all the way around.

The final slap in the face was that there wasn’t even a guaranteed right to a living wage job as part of this “welfare reform.” No one knows exactly how many poor, hard-to-employ women remained jobless and were plunged into homelessness and utter destitution after being thrown off of welfare at the end of their 5 year lifetime benefit limit. Homeless people have been criminalized and driven underground, including children, who were also denied a basic public education for lack of an address.

Middle class “feminists” ignored that issue, after talking down to their poorer “sisters”, lecturing us on the need to be “pragmatic.” Well, with poor people’s life expectancy rates, preventable blindness and other disability rates, infant death rates, and maternal mortality rates that have now surpassed those in several other Third World countries; we see exactly what middle class pragmatism gets us.

This is what happens when middle class “allies” and activists lead and run social justice movements, presuming the right to “speak for” the poor. They think they’re the only ones qualified for the job to act as brokers and middle-men for the poor, and that their class status gives them that qualification. Others end up having to suffer the losses they personally won’t ever have to live with (or die from). And they expect poorer people to do all of the really hard, thankless and unpaid work while they get to speak at all the events, collect all the honorariums, get all the media attention and press coverage, and take all the credit for brokering the deal.

But they don’t want to do all of the unglamorous, energy-sapping and time consuming and grinding work of survey-taking and petition-signing, and doing what it takes to get 200 people to a rally. And that does take a lot of work. All those people don’t just show up simply because they saw someone’s name on a flyer!

While the bourgeois feminists’ movement was preoccupied with battling lifestyle-related issues, poor women have been fighting in the trenches for our rights to equal access to societal resources and benefits — including equal rights to the living wage jobs and equal pay. We didn’t care if we could burn our bras or publicly make out with a partner of the same sex. We care about being able to survive. We’re struggling for equal access to adequate employment, educations, and for the legitimization of income support as compensation and recognition for care-givers and mothers.

The class restrictions that kept white middle class women in the kitchen wasn’t our reality; poverty, racism, and sexism was. Although NOW made an official statement saying it was committed to protecting the now-extinct miserly and inadequate safety net of AFDC, including abortion and dental care covered by Medicaid for poor women, the majority of NOW ‘s petty bourgeoisie membership didn’t follow through. The rights of gays and lesbians to marry (albeit an important right) was far more important than poor women’s fundamental human right to life, to adequate food, utilities, shelter, a job and/or income support, and to birth control and abortion access and the right to medical and dental care — all of which are life and death matters for poor women.

In wandering into the morass of the trivial issues of bra-burning and trashing Playboy, petty bourgeoisie feminists completely betrayed the struggle for women’s most fundamental human rights and that has had a devastating impact on the lives of poor women without jobs or any means of income support.

Women suffering the real oppression of daily economic terrorism that poverty is, including the repercussions of forced pregnancy and forced childbirth-promoting laws that led to the criminalization of miscarriages and stillbirths, and the conscription of poor women into reproductive chattel slavery at peril to our health, wellbeing and lives — all of this has been ignored by middle and upper class feminists.

What they won’t ever admit is that they have benefited from the ongoing oppression and exploitation of their much poorer “sisters.” They never intended for poor women to benefit from all that equality they were seeking for themselves.

They’ve been silent for over 30 years since the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976 followed by the Rapists’ Rights Lobby’s “conscience clause” and “fetal personhood” laws that have cropped up over the last 20 years, and the decimation of the meager and inadequate safety net that welfare was prior to 1996 when Slick Willy eliminated welfare as we know it, plunging 14 million poor single mothers into instant destitution and homelessness under the guise of “tough love.”

There is no comparison between the “quiet desperation” of affluent women like the late Princess Diana of Wales who got tricked into miserable marriages with over-privileged inbred crowned heads or members of the financial aristocracy merely to serve as an incubator for the economic cannibal class’s parasitic progeny after buying into the Cinderella-Prince Charming myth and wanting all that royalty has to offer, versus the very real crushing and life-endangering exploitation and abuse suffered by poor women and girls from the underclass — like 15 year-old Rennie Gibbs, who began her life imprisonment sentence this 4th of July (ironically, on the day American’s celebrate “Independence”) by a Mississippi court for the “crime” of delivering a premature stillborn, thanks to all of the “pro-life” laws and a Christian Right state in which there is no Planned Parenthood or any abortion clinic.

We still do not know anything about the male co-conceiver, such as whether he drank or did drugs which resulted in defective sperm which could have precipitated a miscarriage or stillbirth. We don’t even know if the sex (or the resultant pregnancy) was consensual.

But nobody cares about the plight of poor women, especially those of us who have been marginalized and excluded from the workforce for two or more generations — due in no small measure to the stigma of poverty and all the other barriers of classism that go with that which serve as obstacles to beat poor women down over and over and over, as vacuous middle class spoiled brats who are lucky enough to have good jobs tell us that no matter what we’ve tried to do to be “deserving” of a chance, we’re not doing anything right, not trying hard enough, not responsible, or just plain not good enough.

Dealing with issues of race and gender doesn’t meant you’ve dealt with classism and unearned privilege. There’s a world of difference between the working poor who struggle to get by from paycheck to paycheck who are one car breakdown away from losing everything and the very poor who’ve been trapped by generational poverty and all of the stigma and obstacles to getting a job (when there’s never been enough jobs for everyone anyway) that chronic poverty imposes.

The long-term poor who have been excluded and marginalized suffer the worst; neglected and abandoned on the outer fringes of society, struggling in destitution outside of the “primary labor market” of steady jobs. Those who are lucky enough to have enjoyed steady employment think that those of us with nothing in chronic poverty lack work ethic and discipline.

But it takes a hell of a lot more work ethic and discipline to survive even just one day in our lives, than it does to simply show up and perform some tasks assigned by some boss at an office.

Try scrounging money for food or a utility bill by salvaging scrap metal off the street in all kinds of weather, stripping wire until your hands are bleeding and calloused, and getting all cut up from handling scrap metal for 80 hrs/week just to get maybe only $100 (or whatever meager price the salvage yards feel like paying out based on prices that they set, depending on what the metals commodity brokers dictate). Then come and talk to me about “being responsible” and your “work ethic.”

Try having to live like that, hoping to get enough money to put towards a cheap prepaid cell phone just so you have a means of communication for things like being able to call the police or fire department in an emergency, or being able to keep trying to get a job while suffering from dental problems that you can’t get treated because you have no money and no job with dental benefits — never mind maybe eventually being able to repay that unaffordable student loan debt you incurred in hopes of being “worthy” of a chance for a job so you could climb out of poverty before getting “too old” for anyone to hire.

And of course, those of us in poverty who tried to do “all the right things” get nothing but slapped in the face by middle class snobs who always tell us how “irresponsible” we are if we have no income and have no way to document the fact that we have no income to the satisfaction of some snippy rude middle class bureaucrat at the student loan servicing center, and therefore we’re told we can’t qualify for any deferment or income-contingent repayment plan.

Middle class snobbishness and pragmatism blinds society’s more fortunate and luckily employed from that savage reality of poverty and classism. For those of us who have never had a moment’s comfort and security throughout our entire lives, pragmatism is merely a license for maintaining a status quo in which nothing ever gets better for us and there is no hope that anything will ever change.

Middle class (and often working class) pragmatism really amounts to “how can I get a better deal for ME” by using those of us at the very bottom as their poster child to further their own agenda while never sticking by the poor to help us get a better deal, too. Instead, we get jettisoned the minute they get a few token bones tossed their way. And what do chronically poor women get? Nothing. Or worse.

We get our food stamps and Medicaid cut, our LIHEAP funding cut while utilities skyrocket and things like heat in the winter or a hot shower are unattainable luxuries. Now we got our social security cut, and we lost our access to reliable birth control through Planned Parenthood as defunding Title X caused them to close their doors in several states already.

Chronically poor and jobless women like those of us from generational poverty were never included or accepted in the job market even during the “better times” — and we’re supposed to grateful to our middle class “benefactors” for their “wins” of pragmatism that always benefit everybody else except us? For us, these are life and death realities; not a tally of “wins” in the game of political football.

Until middle class feminists and the steadily employed working class “social justice activists” realize this and deal with their classism, they will continue to alienate the very poor and lose what little bit of trust we may have had in them in the first place. They have yet to do right by their poorest and most marginalized “sisters.” I won’t hold my breath in hopes that they ever will.

Because poor people never win in coalitions. Cross-class coalitions mean using the chronically jobless poor for the ends of middle class people. Those of us from generational poverty were never meant to be included. So what’s the point in voting when we’re always neglected or offered up as the convenient sacrificial lambs at first chance?

While women lucky enough to have a job, even if only a crappy one, can now get their birth control through Obamacare without co-pays, chronically poor women without jobs (or any chance of ever being able to get one) have lost everything with cuts in Medicaid and Planned Parenthood closings, leaving us with nothing — not even basic maternity and post-partum care to at least reduce the already higher chances of death and disability for us as a result of having no options other than carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. And for this, we’re supposed to be grateful to our middle class “saviors?” When we get a share of the pie for once and get access to real choices and options, then we’ll do the victory dance, too.


How the Middle Class is its Own Worst Enemy

June 19, 2011

By Jacqueline S. Homan, author: Classism For Dimwits and Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie

Pseudo-progressive group MoveOn.org posted on its site a 2 minute video featuring Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary under the Clinton presidency. The video, titled “The Truth About the Economy”, gave a very abbreviated half-of-the-story illustration of the cause for the middle class’s current plight. But it completely whitewashed and ignored the role that the middle class played in its own demise by deliberately hurting the poor during the “better times” of the Reagan Revolution followed by the Clinton-era of prosperity.

The middle class suburban-dwelling voters — most of them white males with “soccer mom” wives — literally drove the Welfare Reform engine which eliminated what miserly inadequate safety net there was for the poorest of the poor on the very bottom economic rung (most whom are women).

Now that many in the middle class are falling into poverty as the long-term unemployed middle-aged are jettisoned and left on the permanently unemployable scrap heap, the middle class is outraged. They’re demanding a bigger share of the pie for themselves while still begrudging the very poor even the tiniest morsel. They never learn. You’d think that the middle class would “get it” by now, but I won’t hold my breath.

Almost all of the posters commenting on the Robert Reich video whined about the loss of their middle class living standards. But they refused to see that what is now being done to them they first did to the poor, and therefore set the stage for their own demise. Karma is a bitch.

None of them cry “restore the safety net for the poor” — it’s all about the middle class, as if they’re the only ones with valid economic claims. They refuse to admit that in order to “save America” by “saving the middle class”, they first needed to start by defending the least empowered and most vulnerable citizens at the very bottom economic rung that were targeted by the Reagan Revolution. But instead of saving the poor, they destroyed the poor and they’re still doing it. And by the evidence in the voluminous comments stream on MoveOn’s site, no one in the middle class has any remorse about that.

Major Disconnect is What Happened to the Middle Class

Between 1990 and 1997, the National Student Loan survey by Nellie Mae reported that students borrowed $140 billion to meet their college education expenses. Over 25% used credit cards to help augment their education costs. All of the surveyed respondents had non-education related debt, too. The majority of respondents also said that unaffordable student loan debt caused them to do one or more of the following: drop out of college, delay or forego homeownership and buying a car, or having children.

According to Business Week in 1994, “Tuition and fees have risen 94% since 1989, nearly triple the 32.5% increase in inflation. Even as a college education has become the litmus test in the job market, the widening wage chasm has made it harder for low-income people to go to college. Kids from the top quarter have no problem: 76% earn bachelor’s degrees today vs. 31% in 1980. But less than 4% of those in the bottom quarter families now finish college vs. 6% back then [in 1980].”

While job opportunities rapidly disappeared for women without college degrees, wages for the working class were falling and college costs surpassed the cost of living index — leaving America’s poor marginalized and economically excluded from the dot com prosperity of the Clinton years — former president Bill Clinton didn’t lift a finger to help the poor who had been devastated by the previous 12 years of Reaganomics as the Reagan Revolution machine mowed down the poor and crushed the underprivileged underfoot. Reagan was twice elected by a middle class voting majority.

During Clinton’s two-term presidency, not one of the budget cuts to the now-eliminated social programs for the poor (including restoring the funding for Pell grants that the Gramm-Rudman Bill slashed) had been reversed. While the poor suffered from being trapped in miserable poverty with no way out, the middle class was living large; buying suburban McMansions, mutual funds, stocks and bonds — while criminalizing the homeless and scoffing at the poor who weren’t making it, telling us that our conditions of poverty and deprivation were our own fault for “not trying hard enough.”

How the poor were supposed to “bootstrap” their way up out of poverty and into mainstream middle class America remained unanswered and ignored. All was well in white male dominated middle classdom, to hell with poor women who had no chance at all of ever being able to make it thanks to a legacy of sexism, job discrimination, and pervasive misogyny on top of the additional systemic barriers of classism. It was the middle class majority voting constituency that voted for Reagan (twice), George Bush I, George Bush II (twice), and former-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and shaped economic and social policy during Clinton’s presidency.

Public opinion polls and Freudian psychoanalysis techniques were used by Stanford researchers to help the Clinton administration get a feeling for the political pulse among the middle class majority. The feedback provided by those research polls shaped social and economic policy and dictated the language of the draconian Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

Now in 2011, many who had previously enjoyed middle class comforts and security are crying foul. They wonder how the government could let things get so out of hand and ask how a regime of inverted totalitarianism could sneak up on them. Wiping the Rip van Winkle sleep dust from their eyes, they angrily blame the Republicans and sell-out “Blue Dog” Democrats for the assault on unionized public sector employees. But where were these same disgruntled middle class voices these last 30+ years that the War on the Poor was launched in full swing? What did they think would eventually happen to the middle class after three decades of destroying the poor? The writing was on the wall in 1985, in 1996, and in 2001.

The red flags were raised repeatedly throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s by scholars and researchers like the folks at United for a Fair Economy, the Brookings Institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; homeless activists like Marian Kramer and Cheri Honkala with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, and Keith McHenry who founded Food Not Bombs.

Scholars and authors like Dr. Michael Parenti, Jonathon Kozol, Vine Deloria, and indigenous law professor Robert A. Williams had all in their own ways made multiple contributions to the literary world highlighting the mounting despair, injustices, inequality and poverty. How many educated middle class folks read their works? It’s not like all the warnings weren’t there. The middle class knew. They chose to ignore it when all was fine in their own little worlds.

In Michael Parenti’s 1997 book Blackshirts & Reds, everything was practically drawn out in crayon for middle class Americans who love to boast of their superior literacy and academic achievements while praising the unparalleled value of their “print culture.” Too bad most of these educated high achievers didn’t read Parenti, who eloquently mapped out for them how “rational fascism” renders service to capitalism and how corporate power undermines democracy because plutocrats always choose autocrats. They put their literacy on a permanent vacation as they swayed to the seductive tempo of the “ownership society” song that the klepto-plutocracy sold them.

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

In 2011, public sector employees in Wisconsin — from teachers to police to firefighters to welfare caseworkers — howled in protest at the looming specter of more measures assaulting what remained of unionized workers’ rights. They’re up in arms that Democrats operated in cahoots with Republicans and powerful union bosses to sell them out.

But who did these disgruntled middle class workers vote for during these past 30+ years? Did they vote for some of the same elected officials and lawmakers that built lucrative political careers by hurting the poor, particularly poor single mothers? Did they heed the previous warnings of creeping fascism and the rise of inverted totalitarianism?

Instead of being too preoccupied with reading their 401(k) statements and the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, they should have read Michael Parenti’s Blackshirts & Reds. Everything now being visited upon the middle class now was done before in history; workers and the poor were crushed underfoot to protect the interests of capital, which finally turned with rending claws on the middle class.

In 1924 in Germany, Social Democrat officials in the Ministry of Interior used Reichswehr and Free Corps fascist paramilitary groups to attack leftist demonstrators. They imprisoned 7,000 people. In 1932, three candidates ran for president in Germany: Conservative Party candidate Paul von Hindenburg, Communist Party candidate Ernst Thaelmann, and Nazi candidate Adolf Hitler. In his campaign, Thaelmann argued that a vote for von Hindenburg was a vote for Hitler and Hitler would lead Germany into war. The bourgeois press, including the Social Democrats, denounced Thaelmann’s claims as “Moscow inspired.”

Right-wing governments have always been about maintaining the existing order of unearned privileges and calling it a “free market”; keeping the world safe for the empowered hierarchies and wealthy classes of the world which overwhelmingly have a white male face. Meanwhile, leftist “totalitarians” wanted to abolish exploitative property systems and create a more shared and egalitarian economic system. The left’s favoring the have-nots over the haves made them the hated targets of the unjustly enriched beneficiaries of unearned privilege.

That’s why any real democratic movement that tried to relieve the misery and suffering of the poor has been villainized over and over; having to defend their position. And when the majority of that public is comfortably middle class, they’re not interested in rocking the boat to save the poor whose life chances and human rights they’ve jettisoned. Even the most sincere anti-communist progressives wilted in fear of being accused of being “Communist” or a “socialist.”

Many of the so-called leftist intellectuals cheered the undermining and overthrow of communist and socialist governments in the former Soviet Union and the East Bloc nations throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. They thought that democracy would finally have its time in the sun. But they knew better because among these left-leaning intellectual circles it was widely known that the IMF and the multinational corporations of Western Europe were the prime forced that actively undermined and overthrew Soviet communism and socialist economies in the former East Bloc. The pseudo-left thought they would finally be free of the communist albatross, or, as Richard Lichtman put it, “liberated from the incubus of the Soviet Union and the succubus of Communist China.”

As part of the overthrow of communism, “free market” right-wing forces in various Eastern European nations received financial backing and organizational assistance from US-financed agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy — the AFL-CIO’s Free Trade Union Institute, which was in bed with the CIA.

Meanwhile, capitalist restoration impoverished the former East Bloc countries and the former Soviet Union and undermined many Third World liberation struggles against the tyrannical yoke of colonialism. Those Third World nations no longer received any aid from Russia and the fall of Soviet communism and East Bloc socialism opened the door for a whole new crop of neo-fascist right-wing governments to spring up; ones that worked hand-in-glove with US/Western Europe counter-revolutionaries and trans-national capitalist interests around the world.

In the immortal words of Richard Levins, “Capitalism with a human face has been replaced by capitalism in your face. So, in the new exuberant aggressiveness of world capitalism we now see what communists and their allies have held at bay.”

That Dreaded C-word

Because American-style cowboy capitalism has enjoyed cult status, it was taboo to utter the C-word (“class”). The only times the C-word may be used is in its linguistic power to reaffirm the rights of the exploiter classes and defend the system of unearned privileges that serve to guarantee a permanent pool of exploitable surplus labor — most whom are members of oppressed groups, women and racial minorities.

The C-word is allowed to be used when prefaced with the word “middle” or as a suffix on the word “under” — as in “underclass”, the desperately poor struggling on the margins of society on the very bottom economic rung, who get the least of everything while being blamed for their victimization. Political pundits, poverty pimps, talking heads, and right-wing hacks in the media and well-heeled “experts” get offended at any reference to an owning class and screech “class warfare” at the most subtle hint that the rich are oppressing the poor.

But references to the negative stereotypes of the very poor in the underclass are acceptable because they reinforce the existing social hierarchy of unearned privileges and justify the abuse and deprivation routinely heaped upon America’s most downtrodden. The savage realities of classism and the oppression of the very poor by the middle class is whitewashed and obscured by an ideology summed up in the following credo: “We’re all middle class and we’re free to be as economically successful in life as we want because America is the land of opportunity.”

What they leave out, however, is “whom.” America is the land of opportunity for whom? In a capitalist society, somebody always has to lose so that someone else wins. Somebody always has to get left out. Somebody always has to be at the bottom. The “opportunity” to escape the crushing stranglehold of deep poverty is nearly non-existent for the majority of the poor, especially for poor women — particularly poor women over age 40 that have been unable to get any kind of job after several years of searching. There just aren’t enough opportunities, jobs, and lucky breaks to go around for everybody. And it is overwhelmingly poor women who are bypassed for what scant opportunities remain.

All conservative ideologies justify the draconian treatment of the poor and discrimination against women and all other existing inequities as “the natural order of things.” But if the rich and comfortably off middle class — who are overwhelmingly white males — are so naturally superior in talent, skills, and social worth, why then must those who already have everything be provided with so many unearned privileges under the law, so many bailouts, tax write-offs, subsidies, price supports, and a host of other special considerations at the public’s expense?

And what exactly are those naturally superior talents of society’s favorite sons? Their naturally superior abilities seem to lie within an array of unethical and illegal subterfuges such as job discrimination, price-fixing, collusion, stock and commodities manipulation, insider trading, fraud, tax evasion, harmful products, unsafe workplace conditions, environmental destruction, and the violent enforcement of unfair competition and stealing credit for others’ work and ideas. At that, the overprivileged overclass is a resounding success.

So what exactly are these self-appointed demi-gods contributing or producing to justify their favored treatment over everyone else? By all accounts, the only things being produced and reproduced are oppression, discrimination, theft, social misery, and injustice. Not exactly the stuff they deserve so many rewards for. Yet, middle class America bought into the “ownership society” lie propagated by rich white men who elected themselves king of the planet. The middle class shut their ears and eyes to the harsh truth about poverty in their own backyards. The middle class has always been part of the problem.

Those who have never gone without medical and dental care, heat in the winter, or hot water to bathe properly because of being repeatedly denied opportunities for a good job due to gender/race/age discrimination on top of the barriers of systemic classism had convinced themselves that bad shit only happens to bad people, that “giving money to the poor only hurts them” (justification for being selfish), and that George W. Bush was right when he said, “We’re all middle class now.”

No Virginia, We Are Not “All Middle Class Now”

In 1999 just three years after the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 was passed, a study by the Urban Institute found that nearly 3 in 10 low-income families were unable to pay their rent or mortgage or utility bills and nearly half of all low-income families had difficulty affording food. Low-income workers increasingly had to turn to food pantries which, like homeless shelters and other charities, could not meet the rising need.

In its 1998 survey, the US Conference of Mayors found that requests for emergency food assistance rose by 14% in 1997 and 1 out of 5 requests for food assistance went unmet. The American Journal of Public Health reported in 1998 that 10 million Americans (including 4 million children) didn’t have enough to eat. The majority were families with at least one employed adult.

In 1999, a team of researchers, scholars and social justice advocates published a 94-page booklet citing all of the growing problems of mounting poverty that was becoming increasingly inescapable, a burgeoning permanent underclass, and a shrinking middle class. The booklet includes 9 pages of credible source citations from reports compiled from the data provided by multiple government agencies and private charities and university studies. Some of those reports were from those who were on the inside of policy-making; not people with a “political agenda.”

A February 2006 report from America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network, found that 45% of their clients reported having to choose between buying food and paying utility bills.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that is supposed to help the poor with basic utilities has always been underfunded. Since utilities have been deregulated and public protections from price-gouging in the form of rate caps have been removed, the problem has been made worse.

In 2002, the Joyce Foundation reported that in the wake of welfare reform and utility deregulation, those who had left welfare after their five-year lifetime limits were up were still poor, if not poorer. Throughout the American Rust Belt, the following percentages of people whose utilities had been cut off as of 2002 were:

  • 15% of Wisnconsin’s poor
  • 15% of Ohio’s poor
  • 25% of Indiana’s poor
  • 11% of Michigan’s poor

In 1988, only 37% of the poor got energy assistance from LIHEAP and what they got was not enough to stave off utility shut-offs. In 2000, only 20% of the poor got helped due to LIHEAP funding cuts. The middle class convinced themselves that “there is all this help out there” for those in dire straits. But nobody wants to talk about the outcomes for all the poor people who are increasingly turned away: all the hypothermia deaths and residential fires caused by desperate poor people resorting to unsafe alternative heating sources.

In March of 2010, David Fox of the National Low-Income Energy Consortium said that prior to funding $1.8 billion in funding cuts for LIHEAP in 2010; only 20% of all eligible extremely poor households were able to be served. After the funding cuts in 2010, only 10-15% of the poorest of the poor will be able to get helped.

Given the number of long-term unemployed whose benefits ran out in 2009 (only 40% of American workers are eligible to receive unemployment benefits), in addition to the already suffering 5 million jobless poor who were poor single mothers booted off of welfare but unable to get or keep any job and whose sole income is food stamps, the number of US households without life-sustaining utilities reached 10 million as of December 31st 2010. Consequences of utility shut-offs include homelessness, illness, death, poor child development, and the disintegration of families.

According to the annual survey conducted by the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA), 60% of LIHEAP recipients couldn’t pay their utility bills because they lost their jobs or had a reduction in income. 92% of LIHEAP recipients had a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or a child in the home.

The truth about unearned privileges, job discrimination, and lack of enough jobs for everyone in need of a job who is able to work, poverty in America with a wealth of information about it has always been out there. This isn’t news. How can anyone lucky enough to be middle class today in 2011 say they “didn’t know” what was going on and where this country was headed? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

Like the “good Germans” 75 years ago who claimed they “didn’t know” what the industrial and financial elite and their Nazi government was doing to the Jews, America’s middle class has always known what was being done to America’s poor. 84% of those struggling below poverty in this country are WOMEN. The middle class didn’t care. They didn’t have a problem with all of the redistributive injustices caused by capitalism (which is, essentially, a gender war) until they found themselves under the firing line of capitalism’s Hotchkiss guns.

And even now, most of the middle class you see whining and howling about assaults on their “rights” are cutthroats and back-stabbers who would stick it to their own less fortunate family members who have fallen on hard times in order to “keep theirs.” Trickle-down economics was supposed to stop at the middle class and never reach the “undeserving” poor whose throats they’ve always been eager to cut to advance their own agenda and class interests — which almost always, without exception, are aligned with the rich whom they jealously aspire to become.

If the poor on society’s margins on the very bottom economic rung harbor any hostility, resentment, and distrust for the now-disgruntled middle class, it is wholly justified.

http://youtu.be/JTzMqm2TwgE

Calling Out the Beneficiaries of Unearned Privilege On Their Classism

December 8, 2010

Jacqueline S. Homan, author of Classism For Dimwits and Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie

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.”

Scotty

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.

"Classism For Dimwits" by Jacqueline S. Homan

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.


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