At a recent Seattle City Council meeting a concerned citizen tried to relay how bad things have gotten for people by saying something to the effect of this: Yes, trickle-down exists. The lower class is trickling down into homelessness. The middle class is trickling into the lower class and realizing that there’s no safety net for them there.
According to the Homelessness Research Institute, in the next three years, 74,000 more Americans will likely be homeless.
46.2 million people are now living in poverty in the United States, up from 43.6 million last year. African Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4%, followed by people of Hispanic origin at 26.6%, both much higher than the national average of 15%.
More than 1 in 5 children in America are living in poverty, also an increase from 2010.
These numbers are devastating, especially when we consider that more cuts to social safety net programs are looking likely. Yet another set of statistics caught my eye the other day. It appears that if your name is Chanel, or Neiman Marcus, or Mercedes, your numbers have been on the rise too, but in a much different way. A recent New York Times article reported that “The luxury category has posted 10 consecutive months of sales increases compared with the year earlier.” Tiffany’s first-quarter sales were up 20 percent this year, bringing them a cool $761 million. BMW and Porche more than doubled their quarterly profit from last year. In contrast to these figures, Wal-Mart has begun to sell items in smaller quantities because its shoppers can’t afford to buy multipacks of toilet paper.
We’re told that we should be excited about the fact that the top 5% of earners are spending gazoods of money on sparkly coats and shiny cars. Get more rich people to spend money and everyone will benefit, right?
No, not exactly.
Whether you call it “trickle down,” or “supply side economics,” or the 19th century term “horse and sparrow,” we’re not buying it anymore. No matter how much more money the top 5% or 1% or .001% makes, social safety nets meant to protect our most vulnerable are being dismantled left and right. People are being booted from their houses. Unemployment has fluctuated at a hefty 9-10% for multiple years. More and more people are being discarded from health insurance plans, food supplement programs, and other services that have helped them to stay on their feet.
And guess who is disproportionately affected by poverty? Yep - women. According to national data from 2010, 59 percent of all adults in poverty are women. Single mother households are particularly susceptible to poverty. The rate of poverty for single mother families has hit an all-time high of 42.2%, with an extreme poverty rate of a whopping 21.6%. Here in Washington State, there are plenty of examples. As a new report from the Economic Opportunity Institute details, “In Yakima County, 80% of single-mom families meet the low-income requirements for free or reduced price lunch.
Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center points out that “we have a long history of distinguishing between the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’ in this country.” She guesses that “for a lot of people, single mothers are so far outside their idea of the deserving poor that they can hardly think straight about what might be done to help these mothers or the millions of children that live with them.
The President and chief executive of the Neiman Marcus Group had this to say about the current success of luxury item sales: “I think that she (the customer) is willing to pay whatever price the manufacturer and the retailer deem appropriate, if she sees that there’s intrinsic value in it.” When will we agree on the intrinsic value of making prosperity possible for everyone in this country, regardless of race and gender and heritage and sexual orientation and birthplace?
For those of us that already believe in the value of the social safety net, we can start this process by telling our legislators, in no uncertain terms, that we won’t stand for more cuts to vital services for those in need. The Washington State Legislature is convening a special session to talk about balancing the state budget, beginning this Monday, November 28th. There are many direct actions planned to send a strong message that we want new revenue sources, not more cuts. Be a part of one. Contact your legislator. Spread the word.