Poverty is killing us.
According to a new study from the Brookings Institute, wealthy Americans are living considerably longer lives than Americans who are struggling with poverty. The report points out that the by the age of 55, the average American man in the top10 percent of the income bracket can expect to live another 35 years or so. But, by the age of 55, the average man in the bottom 10 percent of the country's income bracket only has around 24 years left to live.
The lifespan discrepancy between wealthy and poorer women is even worse. While these new findings are startling, they shouldn’t be surprising. That’s because poverty has a very, very long list of negative effects.
For example, poverty is the biggest predictor of educational outcomes. A staggering 40% of children living in poverty aren’t ready for a primary education, and by the end of 4th grade, low-income students are already 2 years behind where they should be. Meanwhile, a study by Professor Sean Reardon at Stanford University found that the gap in standardized test scores between wealthy and low-income students has grown by nearly 40% since the 1960’s. Thank you, Reaganomics.
Similarly, a study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that the gap between rich and poor children completing college or university has grown by around 50% since the late 1980’s. Reaganomics again.
Americans struggling with poverty are also more likely to be struggling with obesity. A 2005 study found that body mass index or BMI, an indicator of body fat and obesity, was higher each year between 1986 and 2002 among adults in the bottom income bracket than adults in the highest income group.
Meanwhile, a 2010 study found that Americans making low wages were more likely to have higher BMI’s and higher risks of obesity. And, obesity rates increased by 10% for all American children aged 10 to 17 between 2003 and 2007, but increased by 23 percent over the same time period for children living in poverty.
Even worse, poverty doesn’t just increase the risks of obesity and prevent children from getting a proper education. As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in their brilliant book The Spirit Level, poverty and wealth inequality influence a host of other social ills. Drug use, mental illness, violent crime, STDs, and teen pregnancies are all higher in countries with greater wealth inequality and poverty.
We must do something to combat poverty, and thus stop amplifying all of the social ills that it creates. And we need to do it now. LBJ's piecemeal approach to poverty was a start, and it worked, but because it had so many different pieces, it was also fairly easily taken apart bit by bit by 33 years of Reaganomics and even by Bill Clinton.
So, instead, let’s take a couple of simplifying steps. First, end most all of the remaining anti-poverty programs. They're a complicated mess. Then roll back the Reagan tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy elite, and, like Reagan did, tax Capital Gains at the ordinary income rate - that will generate enough money for step three. And that final, third step is to take a page out of Thomas Paine’s "Agrarian Justice" - yes, THAT Thomas Paine, one of the Founders of our country, and give EVERYBODY a Guaranteed Minimum Income.
Conservatives win because they get rid of all those “anti-poverty” programs they hate. Progressives win because we end poverty in America altogether. And, if a Guaranteed Minimum Income were made an entitlement like Social Security, rather than a welfare-type program, even billionaires would get a piece of the pie. Most importantly, a Guaranteed Minimum Income isn’t some new and radical idea. It’s been tried and tested, and it works.
Countries throughout Europe, including France, Sweden, and Germany have some form of a Guaranteed Minimum Income right now. And currently, Switzerland is considering a plan that would guarantee every citizen, whether they work or not, a yearly income of 30,000 Swiss francs, or roughly $34,000.
Back here in the U.S., Alaska has had a permanent fund in place since 1976, which collects money from oil production in that state, and redistributes it to the people of Alaska each year. An Alaskan family with 3 children gets about $10,000 annually from the state government, and Sarah Palin was very, very happy to write those checks every year. The bottom-line is that a Guaranteed Minimum Income works and would instantly eliminate poverty in America.
In his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that, “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” He’s absolutely right.
It’s time to eliminate poverty in America, and give everyone a shot at living the American Dream.