Finance

Americans need an economy that supports more than the 1 percent

During his campaign for president and since taking office, Donald Trump has told Americans that he is a friend of workers. That is not true. His disrespect for workers goes far beyond the 800,000 federal employees who are not receiving paychecks because of the government shutdown he initiated. Many of these workers are now worried about how they will meet their mortgages, put food on the table, and pay to see the doctor.

Does Trump even care? When you try, as Trump did, to throw more than 30 million Americans off the health care they have, you are not a friend of workers. When you propose a budget, as Trump did last year, that makes a $1 trillion cut to Medicaid, a $500 billion cut to Medicare, and a $72 billion cut to Social Security, you are not a friend of workers. When you take away overtime pay to millions of workers, as Trump did by rescinding a federal labor rule put in place by Barack Obama, you are not a friend of workers.

Trump likes to claim that there are union workers who support him. Maybe some of them do. But they should understand that all his appointees to the National Labor Relations Board do not favor workers. Day after day, Trump tells us the economy is "absolutely booming," the "strongest we ever had" and the "greatest in the history" of our nation. That might be true for the millionaire who pay $200,000 to be members of Mar-A-Lago. But it is just not true for millions of middle class and working families.

So here is what is really happening in our economy. Since Trump was elected, the five richest Americans have increased their wealth by more than $100 billion. Companies have announced over $1 trillion in stock buybacks last year alone. In 2017, the top 10 corporate executives saw their combined compensation skyrocket by more than 60 percent from the year before, reaching almost $1.9 billion. On average, they each received $185 million in compensation. In 2017, the top 25 Wall Street hedge fund managers made more than $15.3 billion, their highest compensation in years. Incredibly, that amount is nearly double what all 140,000 kindergarten teachers in the United States earned last year.

Yes, the economy is doing great for the top 1 percent. While the very rich get richer, real wages for average workers over the past year are up by all of 1.2 percent at around $9 a week and millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages. Today, the United States has more income and wealth inequality than at any time since the 1920s. Since the 2008 Wall Street crash, 46 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent. Chief executive officer incomes have gone up 937 percent over the past 40 years and they now make 361 times more than the average worker.

The most important economic reality of our time is that, over the past four decades, there has been an enormous transfer of income and wealth from the middle class to the richest people. Since 1979, the bottom 90 percent of Americans have seen their very share of national income decline from 58 percent to 46 percent, costing them nearly $11,000 per household.

As bad as income inequality is, wealth inequality is even worse. The top tenth of 1 percent in our nation today own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. The three richest people own more wealth than the 160 million people in the bottom half. Meanwhile, the median household in the United States has less wealth than it did 35 years ago after adjusting for inflation, and the average wealth of the bottom 40 percent is virtually zero. Shockingly, the wealth gap between white Americans and black Americans has more than tripled over the past 50 years. This is wrong.

Do you know why Americans are outraged, frustrated, and depressed? Do you know why they are falling to diseases of despair like opioid addiction, alcoholism, and suicide? It has to do with a strong sense of hopelessness because the average worker makes less today than he or she made more than 40 years ago after adjusting for inflation. The economy is clearly not "absolutely booming" when nearly 80 percent of workers live paycheck to paycheck. The economy is certainly not the "strongest we ever had" when 43 percent of households cannot afford basic necessities without going into debt. The economy is of course not the "greatest in the history" of our nation when workers are retiring in even worse financial shape than their parents and when half of older Americans have no retirement savings.

The economy is no good when hundreds of thousands of young people are unable to afford to go to college, more than 30 million Americans have no health insurance, one in five cannot afford the medicine prescribed by their doctors, and 40 million live in poverty. The time is long overdue to change our priorities. Instead of an agenda for the wealthy few, we need to create an economy that works for all. It is time to get to work and do it.

Bernie Sanders serves as the junior United States senator from Vermont.

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