THE NEWS JUST KEEPS ROLLING OUT, and for Americans especially an important time has arrived. We consistently hear now that the United States has an economy getting stronger by the day and that citizens can look forward to a more robust future.
And then a study appears in the Washington Post that brings a dose of reality. The Southern Education Foundation reports that for the first time over 50% of American children come from low-income households in 2013. Back in 1986, the number was 32%, moving ever upwards to 42% in 2006, just prior to the great economic recession. The bottom has fallen out for thousands of more families since that recession, so that the numbers is about to reach 51%.
At first I thought these numbers can’t be correct because, if they were, surely the media would be all over them. Kent McGuire, of the Southern Education Foundation, put it starkly: “The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years. It didn’t happen overnight. Now we are a nation disinclined to invest in our young people.” He goes on to state to the Washington Post that the country has reached a “watershed moment.”
In recent weeks, President Obama has opened a new political and economic front, offering new initiatives to support the middle-class. Part of his incentive came from the Southern Education Foundation report. He is recognizing that an increasing number of families are falling out of the lower portions of the middle-class and landing squarely in poverty.
It all sounds timely, and makes sense. But no sooner was the Foundation’s report made public than another bit of information emerged that reveals just how difficult this fight is going to be. The highly credible international organization, OXFAM, informed us yesterday that by next year, over 50% of global wealth will be owned by the 1% financial elite. The 80 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as 3.5 billion people.
This was all over the news yesterday, serving as a kind of “aha” moment for world leaders about to meet at the World Economic Summit in Switzerland this week. The political and economic elite meet there every year, announcing plans to make the global economy more fair, and yet it doesn’t happen. In fact, it’s going the other way.
Winnie Byanyima, executive director of OXFAM, is as bold a champion as any you will ever meet. She’s heading to Davos to unveil the details of the report and challenge world leaders to stop pretending that they are concerned about inequality and get on with dealing with it. She puts it plainly:
“Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is simply staggering; and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and rising fast. It’s time our global leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world.”
This dynamic woman will be co-chairing the Davos forum and won’t be denied, in part because the majority of those falling ever farther behind are the world’s woman. This is a global challenge and Byanyima is placing it front and centre on the global stage later this week.
But she released it now because President Obama is about to unveil his plans for the empowerment of the middle-class tonight, in his State of the Union speech.
There is no longer the need to keep talking about global inequality; there is now a clear consensus and the time has come to act. That’s why Bank of England governor, and Canadian, Mark Carney, recently stated that the capitalism is doomed if ethics continue to vanish, or why the Lancet stated that Canada is losing its knack for global citizenship and in the process is losing the battle against poverty and healthcare at home – especially among aboriginal populations.
A half-century ago, another president of the U.S. stood up to give his State of the Union speech in the same place Obama will tonight. John Kennedy spotted this problem of global inequality and reminded the American people what would happen if they didn’t take it seriously. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” This is the challenge now before us. Growing poverty and inequality says something about us as citizens, and what we will tolerate. At home, Canada is losing this battle, and internationally our voice against poverty has been diminished. Perhaps people like Winnie Byanyima can help us pull back from the brink.
How much isn’t enough for the global elite? Half the world’s wealth doesn’t seem to do it for them. It’s time to take them on before they, and us, lose the battle altogether.