The Deepening Divide

America is reaching historic levels of inequality. We are likely to surpass the divide between rich and poor that characterized the Gilded Age, and what is worse, lawmakers are doubling down on policies that eviscerate the middle class and further enrich the wealthy.

We are getting used to seeing articles that tell us how much someone has to make in order to afford basic housing. The bottom line: there is not a single place in the United States of America where someone working a full-time minimum wage job can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

What about a one-bedroom unit?

You would have to earn $17.14 an hour, on average, to be able to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment without having to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, a common budgeting standard. Make that $21.21 for a two-bedroom home — nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Forget compassion (the GOP certainly has.) Lawmakers with even a cursory understanding of economics ought to look at that mismatch between the minimum wage and a worker’s ability to afford a roof over his head and realize that people making that wage–people who are spending every cent they have on life’s necessities– have no disposable income to spend in the marketplace.

It is demand that drives our economy and creates jobs; if fewer people can afford my consumer goods, I buy less from my suppliers, who then buy less raw material. I need fewer salespeople, and my suppliers need fewer people on the factory floor.

If we needed evidence that today’s Republicans dismiss both arguments– compassionate and economic–Karen Handel recently reminded us. Handel is running against Jon Ossoff  in Georgia, in a special election to fill a Congressional seat recently vacated by Tom Price. During a debate, Ossoff was asked about the wage issue, and strongly endorsed raising the minimum wage. Handel responded to the same question by saying, “No, I don’t support a livable wage. I’m a Republican.”

While Handel didn’t have to take a hard line on a “livable wage,” her views are not out of the mainstream for Republicans in a place like Georgia, where opposition to any minimum wage is common. The Republican who held the district for a dozen years before becoming HHS secretary, Tom Price, voted against the increase that raised the minimum wage to where it is today.

If America had an adequate social safety net, the wage issue might be ameliorated somewhat, but very few of the working poor qualify for any sort of benefit. The most glaring omission from that safety net, of course, is healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is imperfect, but it was a step in the right direction. Most other industrialized countries have some version of national healthcare, or single-payer; such systems not only improve health outcomes significantly, they make an enormous difference to low-wage workers.

When a broken leg can mean the difference between an uninsured person paying the rent or being evicted, the Republicans’ current mean-spirited effort to deprive twenty-three million people of health insurance is incomprehensible.

Equally incomprehensible is Congress’ steadfast refusal to allow government agencies to negotiate prices with Big Pharma, or to allow Americans to purchase drugs manufactured in America from countries that have negotiated for–and achieved–lower prices.

If you are poor in the United States, a broken leg or extended bout of influenza is bad enough, but treatment of a serious illness like cancer is simply unaffordable. Doctors are desperately trying to find ways to keep cancer patients alive without bankrupting even those with better-than modest resources.

A group of prominent cancer doctors is planning a novel assault on high drug costs, using clinical trials to show that many oncology medications could be taken at lower doses or for shorter periods without hurting their effectiveness….

The initiative is the latest response to rising concerns over “financial toxicity,” the economic devastation that can be wrought by the high cost of cancer care. With new oncology therapies routinely debuting at more than $100,000 a year, “lots of people are worried about developing drugs that people can’t get,” said Leonard Saltz of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who helped organize the new group.

Our lawmakers are very good at protecting the profits of drug companies. They are also good at figuring out how to fund tax cuts for the wealthy–just decimate Medicaid and stop subsidizing health insurance for poor Americans.

What they aren’t so good at is recognizing the human, social and economic consequences of continuing to expand the abyss between the rich and the rest.


  1. Thank You Prof. What you say is true. How is it possible that the people who could most benefit from removing these R’s, continue to vote for them?
    or at least, fail to vote at all?
    The R’s have really mastered getting low information voters to vote against their own interests.

  2. I am not even one of the “minimum wage workers and it truly frightens me. Fortunately my home is paid for and I use very little electricity. I also have decent healthcare though my job (but heavy on pre-existing conditions), but that may go as our new governor makes a name for himself with the people he meets on his trips to DC (at least 2 so far since mid-January, and one that he took under cloak of darkness and no one knows where he went as he was on a friends plane and the flight plan wasn’t all that public). He is refusing to give the information about his campaign contributions, but the names Koch Brothers and Bernie Marcus have been thrown around. I am truly concerned because I am a state employee, and he is already talking about the employees tightening their belts, and layoffs. Says we are too heavy. He hired a southern boy to come and run the Division of Family Services, and he knows a thing or two about cutting jobs. Where is this going? I do not know how the people you describe are going to survive, much less live. I know I have started stockpiling and honing my gardening skills. It may be the only way to live soon.

  3. Fox News proved that Juvenal was only half right. If you can run the circus 24/7 you don’t need bread.

  4. Another interesting Republican idea is “Medical Savings Accounts” to provide health insurance for the poor. What world must they live in to believe that people who struggle to provide food, clothing, and shelter for their families will have plenty left over for a medical savings account?

  5. Your comment that demand runs the economy is what they teach in Economics 101, but the reality today is that manufacturers create a demand so they can sell what they produce. If there were no advertising, only what people need would sell, so only that would be produced, which brings us back to demand would run the economy.

  6. There seems to be two kinds of Republican voters. There are the economically struggling folk, under-educated and full of magical thinking, who gravitate toward hate speech, promises of prosperity without a plan, and a them vs. us world view. The second kind of Republican voter is better educated, yet also full of magical thinking. These folk gravitate toward dog whistles and dire warnings about the other taking what they have. The other in this case being anyone dark skinned, accented, and not Christian.

    Why are so many from both of these groups so heartless? IMO the answer is twofold: a total lack of humility and a closed and locked mind.

  7. Rich v poor is so tired and so irrelevant. According to IRS statistics, 56% of the population spends some time in the top quintile. Income mobility is still real in this country. Less than 5 % of the population stays in the bottom quintile throughout their lives. We need to help those 5% but every time the minimum wage is raised, there is an increase in entry level unemployment. There are 3 million people in the top 1% and liberals rail against Koch brothers and Leaman brothers and a dozen more.

  8. “Rich v poor is so tired and so irrelevant.”

    Irrelevant to what Ken?

    Certainly not to government. Or business. Or citizen/tax payer/consumer/voters. Or trade partners. Or religion at least according to the Pope.

    In fact the only group I can think of who deem it irrelevant are Republicans based on:

    Their income is from corporations and wealthy people virtually exclusively.

    They have demonstrated propaganda capability effective enough to influence sufficient citizen/tax payer/consumer/voters which, combined with election management strategies, has given them power which they can sell.

    That’s successful business, right? Make more money regardless of the impact on others.

  9. Such a dispiriting read first thing this morning.
    So why can these Congresspeople get away with behaving so heartlessly? Because they are not punished at the ballot box. Why not? gerrymandering.
    Help end this scourge by supporting legislation mandating an independent redistricting commission.

    Sheila, please write (again) about this.

  10. Pete! You cite a reponderance of opinion but don’t dispute the facts. Rich vs poor has been the mantra of the left since Marx. And yet 95% of the American population PROVES income mobility is real.

  11. Ken Glass, it would be helpful if you cited your source for your first statistic. I found this study but it said that 56% of people in the bottom quintile moved one quintile higher during the period studied. Upwardly mobile but not nearly as you state. And I am not vouching for this study either. Don’t confuse the matter with false statements. This is not that hard.

  12. Neoliberal policies have been embraced by both corporate owned political parties in this country for over 40 years. The Democratic National Committee worked against the one progressive candidate in 2016 (who is the most popular politician in the US) who proposed policies to reverse Neoliberalism which rewards the wealthy and imposes austerity on everybody else.

    When Sanders proposed a drug importation bill to help Americans (mainly seniors) buy their medicine from outside the USA, the establishment democrats (including Joe Donnelly in Indiana) voted against the bill. Cory Booker, the DNC’s darling for 2020, also voted against the bill.

    Why would they do that?

    Because they are owned by the Pharmaceutical Industry. Big Joe Donnelly has received over $250,000 from Eli Lilly alone.

    It’s easy to blame the GOP if you’re a democratic party loyalist, but it’s time we hold our own party accountable for selling us out decades ago in favor of Wall Street.

    Hopefully, the news of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party ‘s victories in the UK will help. If you expect the #DNC to correct their failed policies – good luck with that. The DNC is highly corrupt and will start eating each other as the pressure intensifies.

  13. We of course are watching the good ship Obama sail into the sunset after 8 years of progressive policies recovering our econonomy from the darkness of 2008. While the Trump parade has only begun we have seen enough to be pretty sure of a couple of things. He is not capable of being President but neither are any of the other possibilities offered us by our Presidental succession laws. Congress won’t get much done but everything that they do will be at the expense of the average Joe and Jane citizen/tax payer/consumer/voter/family.

    Ken points out that class warfare is old stuff and I agree with him. It’s a never ending battle and will probably never be settled but will cycle between the two poles endlessly. But, after decades of progress benefitting everyone we find ourselves back at square one we last visited in 1929 and 2008. So be it.

    I described above I believe clearly (I hope) the direction that a minority here and the Russians chose for us for the coming 2-4 years. I admitted that it makes good business sense for the GOP. Make more money regardless of the impact on others. Drinks are on them.

    However there are only indications so far that to keep that high rewards position the Republican’s have to continue to serve their customers who after investing so much demand more and more. Such is the insatiability of greed.

    So the best we can hope for is continued incompetence in all three branches and the resulting dearth of accomplishment. If on the other hand they ever get their act together in the rebirth of an economic aristocracy I’m afraid the class question will remain settled for many decades at everyone’s expense.

  14. Todd, you bring up some good points but they leave me with a dilemma. If not Republicans or Democrats who can get elected and lead us back to common sense governance?

  15. Pete; Ken is a perfect example of something a wise friend told me 35 years ago. You can find statistics to prove anything if you know where to look.

    Karen; thanks so much for asking for Ken’s source.

  16. First, the neoliberalism introduced by the Reagan administration was the blueprint for installing the egregious Milton Friedman formula for capitalism on steroids, aka “trickle down”/no government/no unions/everything private.

    Republicans have managed to destroy democracy by all of them embracing this self-inflicted wound and making sure that the somnolent voters don’t vote. Add to that the obvious fact that Republicans don’t care about income inequality, suffering or uneducated masses. They are only about enriching their benefactors.

    In my latest two books (, “Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status” and “Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism”, you will find the step-by-step history and reasons for our current situation. In a way, I predicted Donald Trump, but more importantly the fulfilling of Marx’s prophecy of capitalism destroying itself. Enjoy.

  17. Ken’s remarks baffle me.

    When I was supporting my ex-husband as he earned his B.S. and Ph.D., I earned $15-23k doing secretarial jobs. This was in 1988-1996, when we paid $400/mo for a one-bedroom apartment. Minimum wage was less than $5, but finding a job paying double that was easy.

    Nowadays, jobs that pay double the minimum wage are not as easy to find. Most secretarial jobs are still $20-25k. That’s nowhere near the $34k needed for a one-bedroom apartment.

  18. Pete, perhaps we should stop looking to others for leadership and start leading ourselves. Individually and in small groups. The fault is not in the stars, but in us.

  19. All you need to do these days to see the economic divide is get on an airplane.

  20. To Todd’s points.

    I commented yesterday on FB in reference to an article on the failure of the DNC to get HRC and in fact many Democrats elected. My comment was:

    “I think that the article first has to recognize the role and effectiveness of propaganda in creating extremists who are incompatible with effective government. There are no legitimate party politics that will bring them back to good governance. They must be written off until they die and we must wait for the next generation to replace them and hope that it happens before all is lost.”

    It sounds harsh but in my experience once a voter has become radicalized (a word normally used for terrorists) through media propaganda they are no longer capable of rational thought. Thus, suicidal terrorists and Trump voters.

    What’s at issue to me is not how to advertise candidates more compellingly because the brainwashing is fact. You can’t undo it with normal political pusuasion.

    The DNC has to accept that the GOP has a 30% head start in terms of unthinking voters and the choices left are only give in and accept and employ those tactics or figure out much improved pursuasion strategies.

  21. I’m not certain but this party of Lincoln seems to want to bring back slavery. You know, they were treated so well, fed well while they built the white house that they seem to not want to pay employees anymore. We’re just slaves.

    My answer to not wanting to raise the minimum wage is actually a question: How do you feel about corporate welfare? Why are retail workers like those at Walmart paid so little they are eligible for Section 8, medicaid and food stamps? Don’t want to raise the minimum wage? Don’t shop at Walmart anymore because you are feeding their profits with no benefit to your community or their employees. That’s corporate welfare in spades.

  22. AgingLGrl, just a side note on your “slaves” comment.

    When I first read the words on the “The Perfect Man” billboard my first thought was, “OH, gee, it’s about white, Christian, Southern, slave owners”. You could easily substitute the words “beheaded” for lynched and “tortured” for whipped.

  23. “According to IRS statistics, 56% of the population spends some time in the top quintile.”

    I know bullshit when I smell it.

  24. We should be ashamed, if that is a relevant measure of our humanity anymore. Here we have the few who have corralled virtually all of the country’s assets (the Walton heirs alone have more wealth than the lower 40 percent of all Americans) and who control the political process by which poor and sick Americans are left to suffer and die because we will not follow the rest of the civilized world in adopting a single payer healthcare system, instead leaving the most vulnerable among us to the tender mercies of bankruptcy courts, adding “broke” to “sick and dying” to our adjectival descriptions. Have we no shame, or has the concept itself been lost in Trump’s otherworld of bullying, coersion and fear-mongering? How much longer can we last with the clones of Maria Antoinette with her “let them eat cake” responses to starving French peasants before the heads (including hers) roll? The rich don’t always win and the nearer we get to the tipping point may signal Bastille #2. This is, propaganda and even shame aside, a ridiculous situation in this day and age. What ever happened to “that government of the people, by the people and for the people” enunciated by Lincoln, one certainly not followed by modern-day Republicans who have the brazen chutzpah to bill themselves as “the Party of Lincoln” while in the midst of being the party of the rich in this second Guilded Age? GRRRR!

  25. So many people in 2008-09 talk about how we are in a new recession. Malarkey! A few of us are not even out of the 2000 one yet!

  26. Regardless of Handel or Ossoff winning,there will not be a living wage in America. Where have the Democrats been for the last 30+ years? Btw,it’s worth mentioning Ossoff is against universal healthcare. Oh Snap!

    Also noteworthy,our own Joe Donnelly voted against drug re-importation from Canada. Joe Donnelly wants Americans to die and he wants Americans to go broke over life saving medicines. It’s often asked,”how did we get here?” Well,one method has been by blindly supporting Democrats such as Donnelly, Patty Murray and Michael Bennet.

  27. Ken Glass most likely works from a home-office. An office within walking distance from his home. A home that is most likely in an all-white enclave with a lot of roundabouts.

    It’s hard to look at the real world when one has their head stuffed up their ass!Hopefully Ken can gain access to some fresh air soon.

  28. “Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.”

    “Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side. The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.”……………………………….Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

  29. . . .Just sitting here pondering about what ‘reponderance’ (per Mr. Glass) could mean. Perhaps we should ponder this pitiful political situation again and again. . .and yet again, to try to make sense of the nonsense. Good luck with that!

  30. Gerald, your post resonates with me. Perhaps you like me are old enough to remember what used to work and what used to not and how much work it was to work to make things better for everyone. Everybody.

    I absolutely shudder to think of a nation of Trumps, yet is it possible? The third of us who still believe in him amazingly seem permanent and the only conclusion I can come to is that once washed brains never return to their previous size.

    I just cannot as hard as I try abandon traditional American values which I used to consider permanent press. I’m wrong about that. Is restoration possible?

  31. From:

    “In recent years, several studies have found that vertical intergenerational mobility is lower in the US than in some European countries.[3] US social mobility has either remained unchanged or decreased since the 1970s.[4][5][6][7]”

    “A study published in 2008 showed that economic mobility in the U.S. increased from 1950 to 1980, but has declined sharply since 1980.[8]”

    “A 2013 Brookings Institution study found income inequality was increasing and becoming more permanent, sharply reducing social mobility.[9]”

    “A large academic study released in 2014 found US mobility overall has not changed appreciably in the last 25 years (for children born between 1971 and 1996), but a variety of up and down mobility changes were found in several different parts of the country. On average, American children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s. [10][11]”

    “However, because US income inequalities have increased substantially, the consequences of the “birth lottery” – the parents to whom a child is born – are larger today than in the past. US wealth is increasingly concentrated in the top 10% of American families, so children of the remaining 80% are more likely to be born at lower starting incomes. Even if they are equally mobile and climb the same distance up the US socioeconomic ladder as children born 25 years earlier, the bottom 90% of the ladder is worth less now, so they gain less income value from their climb … especially when compared to the top 10%. [10][11]”

  32. Todd, excellent comments @ 8:42 am. People’s Summit in Chicago Bernie Sanders said, “The current model and the current strategy of the Democratic party is an absolute failure.” “The Democratic party must understand what side it is on. And that cannot be the side of Wall Street, or the fossil fuel industry, or the drug companies.”

    Joe Donnelly, on his Web Site mentions health care, but he does not mention heath care as right of all Americans. Rather he says, “Access to affordable, quality health care is an important issue that affects all Hoosiers”. He offers absolutely no details, just some glittering generalities.

    Unfortunately, the Democratic Establishment and their talking heads are obsessed with all things Trump. If the Democrats are going to reverse a long term trend of losing, state and federal elections, they have to develop a coherent plan.

  33. Louie:” If the Democrats are going to reverse a long term trend of losing, state and federal elections, they have to develop a coherent plan.”



    And, OMG RUSSIA!

    The aforementioned seems to be their current mantra and strategy. It’s foolish.

  34. I am astonished as the willful ignorance and lack of imagination of those who viciously attack and actively support suppressive wage levels. To what end? So they can afford the basics themselves? So they can have the expendable income to buy non-essentials and luxury goods for themselves? So they can donate more to charities or support philanthropic and arts organizations and still go on extended annual vacations?
    We think hard about what we need and what we want because it makes a difference in our daily lives.
    It may seem tiresome for some to think about the the wealth gap, but it is even more tiresome and stressful to worry about how any utility bill or rent payment can be paid in a month when tires need to be replaced on your 15 year old vehicle, the price of gas jumps $.25 a gallon and your tank is empty, the cost of your chronic illness medication just nearly doubled. Your boss isn’t likely to care if you are constantly cash strapped because your employer is happy with profits as they are or that you can’t take a second job because of family issues (an elderly parent or sick child). It may seem irrelevant to some, but to many it looks like the ladder up and out has been extended even higher and the bottom rungs are miles apart.

  35. You all continue to rail at the top 10% of the population even though, according to the New York Times, 56% of Americans are in the top 10% at least one year of their life. Most are not people born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

  36. JD; also consider those sometimes in a temporary struggle such as my son who is a brick mason, seasonal work. He fell on the job over three weeks ago injuring his knee, the doctor on one of his three visits ordered one ex ray but maintains the diagnosis of “injured knee with pain and swelling”, prescribed ibuprofen and told him to only do his supervisory job, no labor. The pain is worse and the popping noise is loud enough his wife hears it several feet away so this is more than simply a sore knee. Owner sent him home twice because he couldn’t work, only his supervisory position not acceptable. Owner refuses referral to Workmen’s Comp; they might raise his payments. Meanwhile; no work, no pay. So; even working people are often in dire straights, especially those with extremely high annual deductibles on their health care.

  37. Ken Glass is the only sane person in this thread. The rest of you have come “unhinged” .
    I use to read this thread daily just to try an understand liberal thinking, but due to the continual Trump bashing and the same old narrative, I gave it up. So kudos to Ken for hanging tough. It’s comforting to know there are still some sane, logical, critical thinking individuals willing to proclaim the truth. Here’s a little fact for you liberals to chew on from the Brookings Institutite: For children growing up in poor conditions, here is a 3 steps process to follow, in this order. Graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait till you are
    21 to get married and then have children. The result of following these simple principles: only about 2 % are in poverty and nearly 75% have joined the middle class ( defined as earning around 55k or more per year)

  38. Ken, the net worth of the 90th percentile of Americans in 2013 was just under $1M. Of course it’s substantially higher now but those are the latest figures I could find. BTW the net worth of the 50th percentile is $80K.

    Do you really think that over half of Americans are net worth millionaires during their lives?

  39. Today’s subject matter is money. Prior to my response have been 44 comments … about money … and/or who’s doing what to whom in order to collect more money. My memory is occasionally missing in action, but it seems to me that this subject is drawing at least three times more attention than any other subject has drawn.

    So far, I’ve seen no comments that included an apology for shafting everybody else out of whatever monetary awards were available. To the contrary, I’ve seen numerous accusations that the state of insufficient returns is somebody else’s fault. To express otherwise is apparently anti-American.

    Perhaps Fake President Donald Trump will come to the rescue.

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