Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

Donald-Trump-Caricature

He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

 

Single mothers = singular troubles

It’s no secret that single motherhood is a prescription for economic insecurity for many women.

Single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families and a majority of America’s poor children live in single mother-led households, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Lone mothers

At the other end of the political spectrum, the conservative Heritage Foundation says marriage is the greatest weapon against child poverty.

“Family disintegration, lack of education, and counterproductive welfare incentives all contribute to child poverty,” Heritage wrote recently. “Rebuilding a strong marriage culture should be at the forefront of our efforts to fight poverty.”

A New York Times story cited a number of studies that attributed the growing income gaps in American society to the changing structure of the typical family with the growing number of single parent families. The article suggested that changing marriage patterns could account for anywhere from 15-40% of growing income inequality across the country, with a surge in births outside of marriage among less educated women pushing single-parent families into the lower end of the socio-economic range.

“College-educated Americans … are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay,” The Times said. “Less-educated women…are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.”

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin from Johns Hopkins University.

Now there’s even more evidence connecting single-motherhood to poverty.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for low to moderate income working persons, particularly those with children.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based centrist think tank, put together an illuminating interactive map of the share of taxpayers that claim the EITC at the county level nationwide:

Map: The Earned Income Tax Credit in Your County

Brookings then compared the EITC map with a map of single motherhood in the United States in the most recent year for which complete data is available.

Map: Percent of all households that are single female headed with children in 2010.

The principal conclusion? The map of EITC benefits by county looks a lot like a map of single motherhood.

As Brookings points out, looking at the number of parents in a household as an indicator of financial stability and opportunity, changing marriage patterns could account for anywhere from 15-40% of growing income inequality across the country.

While correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, the link between poverty and mothers with children growing up without a father is clearly something that ought to be part of the discussion of income inequality in the United States.