UPDATED - How the Middle Class Has Replaced Poor People in America


January 18, 2015 |

See update at bottom of page

Tomorrow Americans will observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and the following day President Obama will give his Constitutionally mandated State of the Union report.

On Monday, politicians of all stripes will invoke Dr. King's memory to score points and try to establish themselves on the correct side of the history. I've always found it ironic that in memorializing King's goals and accomplishments, politicians and political pundits engage in a sort of historical revisionism and twist his philosophy to fit their message.

Adding further irony is that the present-day actions of most of these people contorting King's words to fit their agenda possess views diametrically opposed to to King's message of racial and economic equality. In fact, had these people been present during King's life, they would have probably supported J. Edgar Hoover's harassment of King and happily classify him as a Communist.

Oh, how political class can change their tune!

While most remember King for his civil rights advocacy, towards the end of his life his work focused on ending the Vietnam War and his advocacy for poor people of all backgrounds. 

In his final speech in support of striking Memphis sanitation workers before his 1968 assassination, King said "Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income."

The Poor Peoples March on Washington DC, which happened after his assassination, was originally conceived by King in 1967.

After the nation honors King, on Tuesday the President will give his address while newly elected Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will deliver the Republican rebuttal. Both will spar and undoubtedly talk about how their policies will help America's middle class.

While appealing to the great American middle class is a classic political strategy, we wonder, what ever happened to poor people in King's America?

On Tuesday night, I will watch both speeches and tally how many times President Obama and Sen. Ernst use the term, or make reference, to the "middle class." My best guess is each will use it several times, but conversely, we will never, ever hear the term "poor people."

If you listen to both parties economic agendas, they will blather on about helping the middle class. Given the income inequity fallout of the Great Recession, the loss of American manufacturing jobs at the hands of trade agreements over the last 30-years that have been tilted to help multi-national corporations on the backs of working people, the great American middle class of 40 years ago they claim to want to help exist now only in history books.

The middle class is quickly disappearing, and many of those who formerly occupied it, are now poor. How else do you explain the exploding demand being met by the Elk Grove Food bank in a supposedly solid middle class community? 

In their Orwellian speak, American politicians refuse to acknowledge this and instead of using the term poor people, might call them working class or the struggling middle class. On occasion, a pol will dip their toes and say the working poor, but that is rare. 

Poor people simply do not exist in our modern political discourse. They are shuffled aside by politicians and the mainstream media. Out of sight, out of mind.

There are a couple things going on here I suspect.

First, to acknowledge the growing population of poor people would mean the political and pundit class would have to recognize the failure of their economic policies. There is ample evidence of the growing population of poor people, but isn't it better to refer to them as middle class?

Moreover, the other thing going on, to be frank, is there is no money for politicians in helping the poor. Poor people cannot provide the financing campaigns needed to get a candidate elected. Politicians ranging from those in Washington DC down to city council members are loath to recognize the poor, much less do anything to help them.

Washington politicians get their money from Wall Street and legislate accordingly; Elk Grove politicians get their money from construction companies and real estate developers and behave like lap dogs. 

For the poor - no money means no access.

Last fall before his election to the Elk Grove City Council, when asked if he would support increasing the minimum wage in Elk Grove, Democratic candidate Steve Ly forcefully rejected the idea. So much for helping the working poor people, eh Mr. Ly!

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent controversy with the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Oscar nominations. Love him or loath him, if nothing else Sharpton has made some keen political observations. 

Talking about the Bush-Blair summits leading to the invasion of Iraq, Sharpton said "Tony Blair and George Bush had a meeting, acted as though it was a world summit. Two guys in a phone booth acted like the whole world had met."  

While Sharpton's diversity beef with the Oscars, may have some validity, is this the battle he should be fighting? Do highly paid minorities in the entertainment business need, or want, his help? 

In the spirit of Dr. King, Rev. Sharpton why not use your energy and platform to battle major retailers like Walmart to raise wages, or hell, even try to convince them to put some grocery stores in food deserts where many poor people live?   

I guess it is true, there is just no money in fighting for the poor!

UPDATED January 21, 2015

From President Obama's State of the Union speech

How many times the following words were used:

  • Poverty - once (in the context of overseas poverty)
  • Poor, or Poor people - 0
  • Low income family - 1
  • Middle Class - 6
In Sen. Joni Ernst's Republican reply, none of the words or terms from the Presidents speech were used.





       

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3 comments

STEVE L said...

THANKS FOR THE THOUGHT PROVOKING OP-ED ON THE EVE OF THE MLK HOLIDAY. YOU MAKE SOME VALID POINTS.

HOPEFULLY, WE CAN ALL TAKE FEW MINUTES TO GIVE SOME THOUGHT TO WHERE OUR COUNTRY IS HEADED AND WONDER WHAT REV. KING WOULD THINK ABOUT WHERE WE ARE NOW AS OPPOSSED TO WHERE WE WERE IN 1968 AT THE TIME OF HIS ASSASSINATION.

IT SEEMS THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME, ONLY THE NAMES (CLASSES) HAVE CHANGED.

IT SEEMS THERE IN STILL MUCH WORK TO DO, BUT EGOS SEEM TO TAKE PRECEDENT OVER ACTION AND ARE MORE PREVELANT THAT EVER.

IT SEEMS THE DEGREDATRION OF OUR COUNTRY IS SLOWLY RISING.

WE NEED REAL LEADERS NOW MORE THAN EVER. IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE THAT CAN RISE ABOVE PARTISAN POLITICS AND RETURN THIS COUNTRY TO THE IDEALS IT WAS FOUNDED ON?

FOR THE SAKE OF ALL OF US, LET'S HOPE SO.

R.I.P. REV. KING.

Lynn said...

The loss of manufacturing jobs has been huge in our country. NAFTA, as I learned in a class at Cosumnes River College, did not help USA nor did it help or improve the lives of people in Mexico. This is sad. Small businesses are taxed way to much...and to keep taxes from completely absorbing their minimal profit stay under 50 employees because an entire new level of tax burden would happen. This limits some of the growth of our small businesses.

The other night a small businessman was interviewed on television and discussed the burden of the new health insurance and other small business obligations. This gentleman said it; profit margins are not great, and some years they operate at a loss. It was also acknowledged this business had people who had worked there for 20 plus years. This suggests this small business must be doing something right for people to stay working at this carpet manufacturing business.
We need leadership that looks beyond the party lines and truly is committed to bringing solutions that benefit all not just a select few!
Follow the money and the greed....MONEY AND GREED make the decisions.

Warren Buffet said...

The Republican "trickle-down" theory which has long been used to justify tax cuts for the rich has been a colossal failure as 30 years of stagnant wages has demonstrated. No argument there, except the slide of America in the global marketplace has not been helpful either.

Unfortunately, our lame duck "Robin Hood" will use his State of the Union address to lay out another plan to rob from the rich to give to the middle class (by pushing for higher capital gains taxes and shaking down the banks for more money to fund his new programs), we all know he is merely baiting the Republicans to say no, so he can set the trap for the 2016 elections.

Promising a free two-year college education and continued Obamacare coverage while opening the borders to immigrants is missing the bigger point that we are no longer the superpower we once were. A two-year college degree is the new high school diploma, and Obamacare does nothing for the middle-class earning more than $45,000 per yea, except raise their premium.

Is this about the middle class or poor? Doesn't matter, it's about trying to redistribute the wealth in a country that once was great but is now a shrinking violet. Wanting to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic misses the real point--trickle-down hasn't worked, but neither has gimme a handout!

The sooner Robin Hood stops race baiting and class baiting, the sooner we can get down to brass tacks and work together to find a solution to greater wealth in this country. The State of the Union speech on Tuesday will just stir up more agitation, and that iceberg is still coming at us.

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