Sometimes I wonder why the simple things are so hard to accomplish. Growing up in the 1960s it seemed like America had resolved itself to not forget the least among us. The so-called "Great Society" was in full swing. The 99 percent, if you will, had an opportunity. We had after school programs which saved many of us from getting caught up in the gangs of our day. We had summer jobs programs, which allow us to earn our own money and taught us how to work. That is, getting up in the morning and not being late for your job. We had a desire to learn the tasks that were assigned to us and wanted to do them well. We had affirmative action which opened the doors to post-secondary education and entry to pretty much the college of our choice. There was financial aid which again allowed the 99 percent to participate in a college education that their parents or families would not have otherwise been able to afford. As America approached the 1980s the Great Society's war on poverty was shut down. Government's commitment to equal opportunity gave way to America's traditional laissez-faire policies.
In September 2008, America was on the brink of a financial collapse and a second Great Depression. Five years later, after all of the talk about the Banks and the reckless risk they took; about Wall Street and the creation of so-called "credit default swaps;" about the home owners who were crushed by the sub-prime lenders and lost both their homes and their jobs, government's primary attention went to the Banks and the corporations with bail-outs and tax breaks that has left poor and middle class Americans still holding on to a cliff's edge as they are about to go over into permanent poverty and unemployment. The most recent employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics had the unemployment rate at 7.3 percent which translates to about 11.3 million persons. The most recent Census Bureau statistics has about 42.7 million Americans with incomes below the poverty levels and Black Americans near the top of those numbers with 25.8 percent of Black or African Americans earning incomes below the poverty levels.
The rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. America will soon have to find its way. This disparity between rich and poor plays out on many levels. Americans are falling behind the rest of world in preparing its students for the jobs of tomorrow and the world that is rapidly becoming smaller. As the nation seemingly begins to turn the corner with its attention recently on Syria and the possibility of having to engage militarily in strikes over the Syrian government's chemical weapons arsenal, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote a letter to his senate democratic colleagues, on Sunday, September 15, 2013 warning of any agreements with the proposed House plan on a continuing resolution that "would lock in place harsh sequestration spending cuts for domestic programs while providing a $20 billion boost to defense spending... for the next three months."
Senator Sanders' letter pointed out the continuing effects of sequestration on millions of Americans such as those that will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start programs; seniors who will be denied access to the Meal on Wheels program; the over 100 thousand low-income families that will lose rental assistance and other "affordable housing programs;" loses to college students and their federal work study grants; and hundreds of thousands that will lose assistance in paying their heating bills as winter approaches. Sanders wrote, "In the richest country on the face of the earth that would be morally repugnant and bad economic policy."
On Tuesday, September 17, 2013; thousand across the nation will be recognizing the second anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy Movement. While many debate just how effective the Occupy Movement has been; few argue that it helped to change the discussion and placed the focus on the growing divergence between the richest 1 percent and the rest of American households. This divergence will come to a head if America's focus does not become Jobs and stabilizing the economy for the poor; the working and the small business owners all of whom have not enjoyed the recovery that has benefitted the 1 percent. We cannot allow thousands of American households to become forgotten persons. Left behind in a recovery that has benefitted the few and tossed the thousands to the soup kitchens and the alleys of urban America. One of my favorite classic movies is 1936s "My Man Godfrey." It's a movie about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent. Godfrey has a classic line that states "the only difference between a derelict and a man is a job." America can't afford the risk of becoming a nation of derelicts.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.