Sunday, December 14, 2014

On Wealth, Inequality Rules

So I'm perusing through the news and I see this article about a Pew Research study on median wealth in the United States and how the Great Recession impacted household worth.

It is a stunning indictment of our fiscal, social and moral progress as a nation. If there's anyone out there who needs a basic primer on why we are facing some months of unrest, then they need to take a look at this. What's happened is that the wealth of white households has grown to 13 times that of African-American households since the end of the recession. In 2010, the gap was 8 times the wealth. For Hispanic households, the gap between their wealth and whites grew to 10 times the wealth, from 9 times in 2010.

In plain numbers, the results are even more shocking. In 2013, the median net worth of white households, which includes real estate, savings, stocks, bonds, etc., was $141,900, while that of African-Americans was $11,000, and the Hispanic household average was $13,700.

Linger over those numbers. How is it that we can address any kind of racial, ethnic or economic tensions when large groups of people in the United States have so little and fewer opportunities than whites to avail themselves of large parts of American society? These numbers are not well-publicized at all, but they need to be. Send them around social media. Put them on a poster. Talk to your friends.

But do something.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest   

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me, or does it still not feel like the holidays yet? Perhaps the warmish, wet weather we've been having here in the Northeast is partly to blame, or maybe it's that the calendar has jammed the buying season into one less week this year because of a late Thanksgiving. Yes, yes, Chanukah, for once, is neither early nor late, which is rare for a Jewish holiday, but I think there's something more than this going on in the country that's partly clouding the season.

We have other things on our minds. Ferguson. Staten Island. ISIS. Oil prices. Wages. Equality issues relating to gender, age, sexual preference and orientation. Supreme Court arguments over worker disability rights and whether someone can post noxious, threatening dreck on Facebook, call it rap, and never mind the effect on the intended target. Even sports won't let us relax and enjoy, what with players being suspended, unsuspended, arrested, concussed and, heaven forbid, involved in some of the aforementioned social issues. Why can't they just me like Mike and play the game?

It seems as if the country is a bit more serious than normal this holiday season, weighing the price of our freedoms against the responsibilities that come with them. We're looking at race and wondering why we still have problems and why whites and African-Americans still have such differing perspectives on how they are treated by police, the courts, storekeepers and mall security. We're looking at income inequality and wondering why companies that make billions can't lead by example and pay workers what they are worth, which is a wage that allows them to live a decent life. We're looking at who is an American and how we can make sure that people who live here and contribute to their families and communities can stay here without the fear that the government is going to deport them because of a long-ago action. In short, we're looking at justice and trying to make sure that everyone gets it because more than any other freedom afforded us, justice must be applied equally at all times.

In the end, I think this makes us stronger, and makes the season of giving that much more important. When we discuss, protest and even engage in some civil disobedience, we are reminded that we have given ourselves the greatest gifts of all: to live in a free society where we can air our concerns and make others realize that many groups in the United States are uncomfortable and unwealthy and insecure, and that each of us is responsible to make sure that every citizen is safe. That way, we can give other gifts, the material ones, knowing that we have done our part to make this a better country. The holidays we are about to celebrate are religious, but we need to remember that our national religion is democracy, and as such, we must all practice it.

So although it might not feel like the holidays just yet, I'm a little more optimistic that this season will see us do more good for ourselves and our neighbors.

Is it just me?

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest   

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2016 Starts in 2015

Yes, I know that we just had a round of midterm elections and not every race from early in the month has been settled. Yes, I know the new Congress has not even been seated. Yes, I know the first NFL coach has yet to be fired so far this season. None of that matters because we're now on to the 2016 presidential election season.

At least I let you digest from Thanksgiving. Time to limber up and get your long-distance political mojo going. It's going to be a long campaign.

President Obama has done his level best to maintain his relevance, and I am firmly on the side of any chief executive who can hold onto the media cycle well into their sixth year. We'll see if he can do that. The Republicans are livid because they thought they actually won the elections and figured that Obama would cave in to their demands to deport all undocumented immigrants, give subsidies to the coal industry, and call for more heavy-handed police tactics in areas where the officers are mostly white and the population is mostly African-American or Hispanic. Just as he expected, after winning reelection in 2012, that the GOP would cave in on taxes and entitlement reform and immigration. So I guess we're all even.

As for actual legislation, I don't think that much will pass through the House, Senate and White House. It looks like congressional lawsuits against the executive on health care and the environment will have to suffice as the democratic process for the time being, and I doubt that a disaster, such as a collapsed bridge or more  extreme weather, will get the parties together.

And you know what that means, don't you? More time for politics, polling, breathless cable news pronouncements, pundit speculation and, of course, Twitter and Facebook explosions on race, women, the minimum wage, the war on coal and privacy.

This is just a friendly warning. I'm not going to prognosticate just yet. We have a holiday season to get through and I don't want to deter anyone from shopping or saving the economy. But the election is coming and it's best that we prepare.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest