The Economic Inequalities of Crisis Politics

This is a view of Philadelphia from the Glenwood Green Acres, a public garden located at 18th Street and Glenwood Avenue.
View of Philadelphia from Glenwood Green Acres public garden; Creative Commons photo.

Economic stimulus packages typically bring a lack of concern for Americans who struggle the most to the forefront of the conversation. That’s because stimulus packages typically contain more gains for the wealthy and offering nearly nothing for those who grapple with getting by on a daily basis; who are negatively impacted by economic downturns more than anyone else.

It’s no secret that poverty disproportionately impacts communities of color in America. I could argue, with great success, that the effects of poverty are not by accident. Taking a look at what conservatives bring to the table easily explains why things are the way they are. What the economy has become since Ronald Reagan was president is one of corporate socialism. For the last four decades, people who earn the least have benefitted the least.

There’s a reason for that.

Like most Americans, politicians are keenly aware of Census Data from 2018 showing the highest poverty rate by race is as follows: 25.4% of Native Americans; 20.8% of Black folks; 17.6% of Latinos; 10.1% of White folks; 10.1% of Asians, yet conservative policies have consistently hurt the poorest Americans thus disproportionately targeting and adversely affecting communities of color.

While white folks make up nearly 43% of the 39.7 million people living in poverty, it’s worth noting that they make up only 10% of the white population in America. Conservatives often point to that 43% number while claiming adverse governmental policies similarly affect them as a whole. However, their claim does not reflect the much larger percentages of minorities who are negatively impacted by poverty due to the bipartisan economics that are the basis for conservative politics.

Even worse than all of that, 5.3% of the population — 17.3 million people — live in deep poverty (incomes below 50% of their poverty thresholds) and 29.9% of the population — 93.6 million — live close to poverty (incomes less than two times that of their poverty thresholds). Whenever conservative politics put corporate interests before the people, as it usually does, these are the people they are knowingly and willingly leaving behind.

Considering the support hardline conservatives have given a bigoted Donald Trump, the Republican , and the overwhelmingly white support conservatives enjoy, it appears that the disdain for poor folks of color has them willing to sacrifice the 10% of white Americans who suffer under the weight of poverty. To put it simply, they don’t care about poor folks and they care even less for minorities. That’s the platform they’ve run on since the 1970s.

The Wealthy Get All the Breaks

The conservative platform of small government hidden under the guise of fiscal conservatism has always been one that attacks social programs rather than actually trying to balance the budget or curb spending. With the far-right in control of the party, their policy focus has been on destroying the regulatory power of the federal government while providing subsidies and tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.

Since 1980, the United States has had five major recessions. In each instance, the wealthy benefitted the most when the government stepped in to provide the economy with a shot in the arm to give it a boost. After the 2008 economic collapse, the Wall Street banks that caused the crisis were bailed out with loans and cash worth a staggering $29 trillion.

Meanwhile, by 2009, homeowners across the country were beginning to lose their homes through no fault of their own. Their only source of relief was hidden somewhere in the $29 trillion which contained unspecified funding. At the same time, Obama implemented a foreclosure relief effort called the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) and set aside $75 billion.

From lax oversight to working with mortgage servicers who profit from foreclosures and people paying high-interest rates, HAMP was doomed to fail. There was no incentive to help people when banks were provided with loopholes that allowed them to profit as they added homes to their asset inventory through foreclosure.

Because of the lack of regulatory oversight, HAMP actually enabled foreclosure and had a default rate so high that only $15 billion of the $75 billion had been spent nearly eight years later in 2016. Initially, the program promised 4 million mortgage modifications — a gross underestimate — but by the end of 2016, only 2.7 million had even started. Of those, only 1.7 million made it to permanent modifications and 558,000 eventually washed out of the program altogether.

In the end, the recession of 2008 put trillions of dollars in the pockets of the wealthiest people in the world while millions of Americans lost their homes and their livelihoods. We watched as our taxpayer dollars were handed out to billionaires while the rest of us are still holding the bag over a decade later. Now we’re doing it again.

Instead of putting a plan in place such as expanding spending on education programs that would allow workers to grow and be better prepared to serve at available jobs when they’re allowed to go back to work, our capitalist political system prefers to put more money in the pockets of the already wealthy, leaving workers in a position to continue to be at the mercy of their employers.

Excluding Marginalized Taxpayers

In recent weeks, many Americans have taken notice of how conservative policies negatively impact marginalized groups in America. Not only are poor, low-income workers rarely considered in the centuries-old conservative policy agenda, but taxpaying undocumented workers — who contribute to our social programs yet do not qualify for them if they were to need them — are being left behind as well.

Similar to the results of Obama’s stimulus package putting a dent in the generational wealth of minorities in America, conservatives use their positioning in Congress to further strip the poor of their very limited assets that can be used as a stepping stone out of poverty. In a society where money equals power, conservative politics — whether Democrat or Republican — have historically been used to limit marginalized groups of their political influence in America’s capitalist society.

Yes, conservative Democrats are equally guilty. We shouldn’t have to point to Barack Obama’s inhumane immigration policies (which Joe Biden supported until recently) to provide an example of how liberals are sometimes just as willing to sacrifice minorities to appease conservative white voters in America. And we shouldn’t have to point to the 1994 Crime Bill or any other policies either. Liberals know all of this and they continue to vote for the same people behind those appalling policies.

Let’s face it, in politics, if you want to win in rural America, you need to be low-key racist.

When we talk about those elusive voters who voted for Obama twice and subsequently voted for Trump, finding the commonalities that appeal to them in the two candidates is not that difficult. Now, with Trump in office, anti-immigrant rhetoric has again found its place in the conversation about how to deal with our current economic crisis.

No, Democrats aren’t as blatantly racist as many Republicans take pride in being (at least not publicly). However, their rhetoric appeasing racist conservatives speaks for itself.

I know, a lot of you will come at me for speaking out against Democrats, but we can’t discuss the systemic racism in America until we address the liberal politics that willingly overlook it for the sake of securing the racist vote. When people discuss how progressives are leaving rural America behind, it’s not the voters they’re talking about, it’s their racism. More moderate liberals are open to appeasing that racism for the sake of winning and it’s a big problem.

Democrats realize that in order to win rural America’s votes, they have to acquiesce to the views of the voters they are trying to win over. That’s basic politics. The problem is that it’s pandering on a level no one ever likes to discuss and it’s also why American society hasn’t advanced beyond where it is. We have been stuck in the same society since the post Civil Rights era and have not made many advances because voters and politicians alike refuse to call this behavior out.

Yeah sure, minorities overwhelmingly support less racism, but we also don’t trust white voters to do what’s right for us. Most of America is content voting to maintain the status quo because it’s easy. The problem with that is, the status quo doesn’t provide the poor, especially minorities, the same opportunities that are afforded to more affluent Americans across the country.

Exposing Economic Inequality

We all know that economic inequality is more pervasive than ever. But economic downturns expose just how deeply ingrained it has become in America. If you had any doubts before this piece and you’re still not convinced, read the current stimulus package in its entirety and see just how much corporations (who are currently experiencing record profits) are benefitting from it compared to American citizens. Even real estate moguls got a tax-break. It’s crazy.

Even worse, the negative impacts stimulus packages have on the poor and the nearly-poor are much greater than anything other Americans will experience. Currently, many who live paycheck to paycheck can’t afford to wait weeks or months for government help. So they are out working to make sure they can feed their families. Desperate people do desperate things to survive. To conservatives, that makes those workers expendable.

Landscapers, plumbers, home remodelers, new home construction laborers are just some examples of people going to work out of necessity. Most of those who I’ve spoken to are doing their best to stay safe using what little resources they have (e.g., wearing bandanas over their faces to prevent breathing on each other). Of these workers who are merely trying to survive, the vast majority that I’ve seen and spoken to are Latinos.

Those same Latinos likely won’t be receiving any help despite being taxpayers because many have been issued a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) instead of a Social Security Number (SSN). And if you’re minimally aware of what’s in the stimulus package you know that without an SSN you will not be granted any benefits. These workers are left with no choice but to continue to work as they line their bosses pockets who are not offering them any help whatsoever.

This is the status quo.

The SSN issue was a sticking point for Republicans and Democrats had to cave in order to get the package passed. The idea of the package is to convince America that it is to their benefit by issuing checks that amount to chump change in today’s society. Politicians know that by throwing money in people’s faces most of America will shut up about economic inequality thus leaving minorities behind during the most trying times this country has ever faced.

It works every time.

What To Do

As a society, we can’t rely solely on our elected officials and social activists who call this out. We have to accept our roles in addressing these issues with our respective communities. We need to bring them up in conversation and discuss the impacts of economic inequality and how it affects each of us respectively.

We begin by changing the mindset that existed prior to the current crisis.

Of all the things we do to address these issues, the avenue that we rarely see employed is that of advocacy within our own families and our communities. Personal discussions. In Latino communities, it’s common for our elders to listen to our concerns and become active politically on the younger generation’s behalf. We are (mostly) firm believers in that the future belongs to younger generations and we try to help them bring society where they need it to be.

While that may not always be the case, it’s certainly an idea we all should consider adopting. America’s future should be determined not by those who believe what’s good for younger generations, but by those who are going to be living it.

Anti-Racist Antagonist | Journalist: Equality, Justice, Immigration, Police Misconduct, Racism, Politics | #WEOC | Support my work: patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

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