You may have seen it. A recent New York Times story about the 158 families who collectively have provided almost half of the money raised to support all Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in the early phase of the campaign.
It’s astounding enough that these super-rich families have together given $176 million so far, without a single primary vote being cast.
But what took my breath away was the number buried in the middle of this paragraph:
More than 50 members of these families have made the Forbes 400 list of the country’s top billionaires, marking a scale of wealth against which even a million-dollar political contribution can seem relatively small. The Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, for example, earns about $68.5 million a month after taxes, according to court filings made by his wife in their divorce. He has given a total of $300,000 to groups backing Republican presidential candidates.
A week later, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that obscene figure.
$68.5 million a month?
How is that even possible?
Who on Earth even needs that much money?
The morning after I read it, the number — and what it represents — popped to mind as I waited for my bus.
— Twenty feet away, a homeless man lay in the sun next to a shopping cart stuffed with clothing, empty bottles and cans, and other possessions.
— A bare-chested young man walked past, singing loudly to himself, baseball cap turned backwards and pants drooping well below his waist. It was obvious from his dress and his demeanor he wasn’t on his way to work.
— The bus pulled up and the lady next to me walked stiffly toward it, pulling a small cart with groceries. The door opened and she asked the driver, “Can you put the step down? My legs is tired.”
Three “have nots” in the richest country on Earth. A country where it’s possible to generate income of $68.5 million a month after taxes.
Can you say “income inequality”?
Barely three days later came another jolt of news: Tens of millions of senior citizens will receive no annual cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security checks next year.
Why? Because raises are tied to the Consumer Price Index, which has been flat this year and even shown a drop in gasoline prices. As a result, seniors and others who receive Social Security benefits — children, spouses, disabled veterans — will see no bump in their monthly checks in 2016.
One in four U.S. households receives Social Security benefits. Nearly half of aged couples rely on Social Security for about half of their retirement income. For 47 percent unmarried seniors, it’s more like 90 percent. My late mother received a little over $700 a month, her sole source of income.
Now, I’m not saying the rich guy in Chicago has any obligation to donate money to better the lives of these three Portlanders and/or the less fortunate in his own community (though I do hope he has a conscience). Nor am I going all socialist here and demanding the government seize and redistribute his assets.
What I am saying is that I fear for the future of this country with this ever-widening gap between rich and poor in the United States. It’s become a gulf where people on both sides can’t even see each other.
We Boomers have saddled our children with some intractable issues and income inequality is right up there with racism, global warming and gun violence.
As the presidential campaign slogs on, it might be good to listen to what the candidates say about income inequality. Do they even recognize it as an issue? What are their policies toward taxes, creating jobs and incentives to save?
Is any of that $176 million raised so far for their campaigns generating any hope for reform?
Main mage: Will Roberts Weekly Telegram
Secondary image: SSDI Solutions