THE BLOG
07/19/2011 06:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2011

Poverty USA: The National Jobs Debt

When was the last time President Obama spoke with us about poverty in America? Not in last State of the Union speech, not in front of a barrio health clinic, not while touring a low-income housing project. Poverty is off the political agenda. The poor are invisible. Our national conscience is dormant.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21% of America kids under age 18 in 2009 lived below the poverty line. One in five! Thirteen percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 lived in poverty. Shame on us.

The national unemployment rate is deplorable, but far worse for workers with colorful skin tones. According to a recent report, Austerity for Whom?, unemployment in 2010 for black workers was 16%, for Hispanics 13%.

Of course, the best anti-poverty program is a job. Contrary to popular mythology, American jobs are not just moving overseas. They are also going under the meat axe of government cutbacks.

Private employers have added 1.7 million jobs over the last year while concurrently our government has killed 660,000 jobs. A paltry net gain of one million new American workers -- woefully off pace to replace the 7 million jobs lost by the Great Recession.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith famously remarked that our quality of life is equally determined by vacuum cleaners and street cleaners. The worker who manufactures a vacuum cleaner and the worker who sweeps a sidewalk both produce needed goods and services, both pay taxes, both raise families, both donate to charity, both are engines of national prosperity. A job is a job.

In the last 50 years, the number of American millionaires has grown from about 6,000 to 360,000. 360,000 of our neighbors (well, maybe not in your neighborhood or mine!) have $1,000,000 a year to spend on whatever they want. As many homes or hats, yachts or yoga classes, candy or cake as they could possibly consume.

According to Wealth for the Common Good -- a patriotic group of high net worth individuals advocating for a fair tax system, if millionaire households paid federal income taxes at the same rate today as they did 50 years ago, we could reduce the national debt by $230 billion, or refurbish hundreds of dilapidated schools, or hire back thousands of policemen, or patch miles of potholes. If corporations paid at the same tax rate as they did 50 years ago, add another $485 billion (total: $715 billion) for job creation.

America's tax code is unfair, unwise, unreasonable and unsound. You pay more so the über-wealthy can pay less -- a weird kind of socialism for the rich.

In recessionary times or in any time, a national debate over the size of government is worth having. But, whatever the amount of government you want, it is only right that all of us pay our fair share to maintain public parks, good schools, clean air, safe roads, well-trained cops, street lighting, etc. And, yes, street cleaners too.

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