Via TalkLeft (who got it from the Horse): most Americans believe that between 1 and 5 million people live in poverty in the US. It’s actually more like 33 million, at or below the poverty level.
What’s truly astonishing about this astonishing number is that most Americans are also far more generous (and far more realistic) in setting the poverty level than the federal government: 47 percent of the respondents believe that it takes almost $35,000 a year to just adequately feed, clothe, and house a family of four.
The Census Bureau classifies a family of four as poor if its cash income is below $18,104 a year.
(A family of three: $14,128. A couple: $11,569. On your own: $9,039.)
So a lot more people are making a lot less money than most Americans realize.
When you couple that with the fact that 19% of Americans believe their income puts them in the top 1% of income earners, and another 20% hope to be 1%ers when all their hard work finally pays off—
A lot’s been bandied about regarding Bush’s unguarded assertion that the dwindling of the long-since-squandered surplus will create “a fiscal straitjacket for Congress”; that the administration’s “real” goal in running up unsupportable deficits while slashing and burning taxes is to force reductions in “unnecessary” government services. The result is a sort of Machiavellian vision of wasteful tax-cut-and-spend Republicans who depend on being voted out of office every now and then (because long term, everyone’s voted in and out of office now and then) so that the hard choices and the unpopular service cuts and meager tax hikes are actually made on the Democrats’ watch. (Since the Bush administration still shows absolutely no sign of curbing spending themselves.) —I think we need to take an even longer view. I think Professor DeLong is quite right to note:
Deep in the core of American ideology and culture is a constellation of beliefs and attitudes: belief that the future will be brighter than the present; that what you accomplish you make with your own hands; that individuals should rely on themselves, not the state; that people can cross oceans and mountains to make for themselves a better life; and that those who succeed do so not through luck and corruption but through preparation and industry. These are not beliefs conducive to social democracy.
We think we’re richer than we are. We think we all have more of a shot at striking it rich than we do. We don’t want to think about how much of our lives is dependent on contingency and luck; we don’t want to think about the one bad day that could be between us and the street. We willfully do not want to see how many people live in poverty, and we don’t want to think about how crushing that poverty really is. We don’t want to admit it could ever happen to us, and even if it has, we want to plan to secure what will happen to us, someday. When all our deserving hard work finally pays off. Any day now.
DeLong is right: this ignorance and moonshine is not conducive to notions of sharing the wealth and leveling the playing field.
So it’s not that Republicans depend on deficit-hawk Rubinomics Democrats to come along and clean up after them. We all depend on Republicans to run the whole shebang into the ground and on the rocks from time to time so that things get so bad our better instincts reluctantly kick in, and we get New Deals and Great Societies and some small measure of economic sanity. A different sort of Boom and Bust.
It’s just—how far off are those rocks? How much further till the bottom? 33 million are there already. How much larger does that number need to get before we see it?
Maybe we all need to get out more.
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