Read this article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette | Published October 2012
With all the talk surrounding the widening gap between the wealthy class and everyone else, there continues to be very little attention given to the poor and working class people in this country. Elected officials are not vocal enough in their advocacy on behalf of citizens who are actually the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us.
The public advocates who are mounting visible campaigns designed to address the unique challenges facing poor people in this country are being shunned or vilified mainly because people don’t want to confront the elephant in the room.
However, this nation may have finally reached a point where it can no longer ignore the diversities and complexities that characterize poor Americans, because the face of poverty has begun to look more and more like the person next door. Sadly, as usual, people don’t tend to pay attention or wake up until a crisis or hardship hits close to home.
Much of what we hear are concerns about middle class families and disdain for the upper class, but not much is targeted at protecting the interests and needs of the working poor and the underclass as a whole. Some argue that these groups of people will benefit from the same legislation that is designed to assist the middle class.
While this is generally true, it is equally true that those in the lower economic strata warrant targeted intervention because their challenges and inadequacies are often different from those in middle income brackets.
Others argue that those below the middle class don’t pay taxes anyway and often receive outright tax refunds. Whatever the arguments, it is clear that working class and poor Americans are the forgotten ones and the voiceless when it comes to visible and powerful advocacy in policymaking.
While time is being spent figuring out how to redistribute income and the income tax burden, too many fail to acknowledge that you do run the risk of creating disincentives to work, to be productive, and to be self-sustaining, in the minds of some citizens who are already paying little or no taxes.
Resolving class inequities is not as easy as increasing taxes on upper income taxpayers. There are real and consequential effects that are certain to accompany any increase in individual and corporate tax rates.
Not only do you run the risk of reduced financial contributions to charities and other philanthropic entities, you can guarantee a negative effect on corporate activities such as hiring and expansions. And this would not bode well for lower or middle class Americans’ employment or entrepreneurial prospects. Whether people like it or not, the millionaires and billionaires are largely the job and wealth creators for our economy.
Although we can’t ever expect to govern the habits of people’s hearts, their compassion for others, or their willingness to give, we can tap into the American spirit and virtue which have always been defined by a real concern for the poorest among us.
In public and private spheres, we must do a better job of advocating for the kinds of social and economic safety nets that will enable upward mobility for those who have been disenfranchised for too long.
What won’t work is the growing tendency for some to pit classes of people against one another. Because at the end of the day, every single American citizen deserves an equal opportunity to be upwardly mobile and financially secure, in the context of public policies that distribute equitably the fiscal benefits and the fiscal costs of our nation across all income classes.