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Camille Rivera Headshot

Class Warfare

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As an eyewitness to the growing gap in income inequality in New York City, I can't say I was shocked to hear Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Joe Lhota accuse Bill de Blasio of waging a mayoral campaign built on class warfare. I was surprised he was that candid, but anyone paying attention to what Bloomberg has done over the last 12 years had to laugh out loud at that one.

The billionaire mayor, who lives in a bubble with super-rich New Yorkers, has long been accused of being out of touch with middle class New Yorkers -- and all those in the 99 percent. His equally laughable solution to the income inequality gap is to attract more billionaires -- specifically Russian oligarchs -- to the city.

Now we have Bloomberg and Republican candidate Joe Lhota, who would continue most, if not all, of the mayor's policies, accusing de Blasio of class warfare and of trying to divide the city. In reality, de Blasio's proposals actually would do more to make this one city -- a city that is fair to the middle class, not just the privileged few.

In a recent interview, columnist and former CNN correspondent Bob Franken noted that "the people who use the term 'class warfare' are the very people who have conducted a class warfare against everybody but the super-rich class."

He's got that right. A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the gap in after-tax income between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of us has tripled over the last three decades. In that period, the average after-tax incomes for the top 1 percent increased 281 percent, compared to 25 percent for the middle fifth of households and 16 percent for the bottom fifth.

Nowhere is the inequality gap more pronounced than New York.

A 2012 report from City Comptroller John Liu found that the top 1 percent of the city's tax-filers had taken in one third of all city personal income, about twice the national average. Even more astounding is that the top 0.5 percent of all filers took in 26.7 percent of the city's income and the top 0.05 percent pulled in 18.9 percent.

An earlier report from the Fiscal Policy Institute found that New York City had the largest inequality gap of any of the nation's 25 largest cities. And The Roosevelt Institute notes that while income inequality in New York City has soared in the last 30 years, the top 1 percent don't even pay their fair share of taxes.

Talk about class warfare!

Bloomberg is fond of saying that New York City has rebounded well from the 2008 financial collapse and has even regained many jobs. First of all, most of those jobs are low-wage, and second, there is ample evidence that the 'recovery' has been uneven at best.

A recent Huffington Post report shows that while the wealthy have done "amazingly well," not much has trickled down to the rest of us. The report noted that corporate after-tax profits and the stock market have soared, while wages have remained relatively flat from 2008 to the present.

The banks we bailed out are back to record-high profits, while many middle class families lost their houses and low-wage workers continue to struggle to make ends meet. The report also noted that between 2009 and 2011, the top 7 percent raked in a 28 percent gain in net worth, while the other 93 percent of us lost 4 percent.

As Wall Street bonuses climb back to prerecession levels, many big corporations are whittling away benefits. A recent study cited in The Fiscal Times found that 17 percent of workers lost or had gotten reduced bonuses. Even worse, the newspapers are full of stories about how lots of middle-class and low-wage workers are losing health benefits and pensions -- if they even had them at all.

Meanwhile, worker productivity has increased 23 percent nationally since 2000, while wages have remained flat and we in New York have gotten hit with higher tolls, bus and subway fares, and even increased parking fines. So we are all working harder and longer for the same money as a decade ago while the basic costs of living have increased.

That's not true for the 1 percent, all of which makes it pretty clear that right now New York is two cities -- one for the have-a-lots and one for working New Yorkers.

So don't be fooled when Bloomberg and Lhota talk about class warfare. The 1 percent has been at war with the rest of us for a long time -- and it's time the middle class fought back.