Archived Story

Many face dwindling resources

Published 5:37pm Sunday, March 3, 2013

Income disparity that leads the developed world helps U.S. poverty soar “off the charts.”

From 1979 to 2010, CEO pay exploded 680 percent, while an average working class American lost 10 percent of their income. In Japan, CEOs earn no more than three times as much as workers who sweep shop floors.

Jon Wallace
Jon Wallace

“It grows exponentially at the top. The big three oil companies made $85 billion in profits last year and get $8 billion in subsidies from the federal government. But we’re going to take $8 billion away from preschool children, who already are struggling to learn how to read and write and do math,” Bridges Out of Poverty’s Jon R. Wallace told Dowagiac Rotary Club Feb. 28 at Elks Lodge 889.

Bridges Out of Poverty is a Texas-based global philosophy Cass County embraced in 2008.

Berrien and Van Buren counties just started.

In 150 years from 1820 to 1970, wages grew 96 percent and “everybody gained. We rebuilt England, Germany and Japan” after World War II. “For 150 years, we worked hard and got better. All of a sudden, because wages aren’t growing and you can’t do that anymore, we invent credit cards and home equity loans. Seventy-five percent of  bankruptcies are not caused by credit card debt or downsizing, but hospital bills. Every one of us is one ice slip from a broken hip. If you haven’t read ‘Bitter Pill’ in Time magazine last week, about medical bills, you should.” The 24,000-word article by Steven Brill consumed the issue’s entire feature section.

“You can take the next 30 countries down in the industrialized world, add all the people they have in prison together and it doesn’t add up to the number of people we have in prison,” Wallace said. “Some of that is caused by punitive sentences more than actual crime. Don’t get me wrong, there are criminals who absolutely deserve to be in jail — unless they’re on Wall Street. They’re too important.”

Cass County has a $45,432 median income, with 13.9 percent living in poverty; Berrien, $42,488, 16.7 percent; and Van Buren, $44,428, 18.9 percent.

“In all three counties,” Wallace said, “more than a third of children under the age of 5 live in poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth; 25 percent of Americans don’t know what they’re going to eat today. Fifty percent of children born this year will be into poverty. If children are not properly nourished, brain development lags and they start falling behind in school because they can’t read at grade level.”

“If you choose to drop out of high school — and in this country someone drops out every nine seconds — you’re pretty much guaranteeing you’ll be in poverty the rest of your life,” Wallace said. “Why do people ‘live in sin’ and not get married? Because if they get married, they lose benefits. If they have more kids and don’t get married, they get more benefits. That makes absolutely no sense. If you’re paying an employee $8 to $10 an hour and they’re spending their day worried about how they’re going to pay their gas bill or their day care provider, they are not as productive as they could be. Americans live to an average age of 72 — lowest of 30 industrialized nations — 48 for someone who lives in poverty.”

For a family of four, the poverty level was considered $22,113 in 2010, $22,811 in 2011 and $23,050 last year, so 200-percent of poverty was $46,100 for 2012.

“If you are below 200-percent of the poverty level, you are highly likely to be in poverty at any given moment,” Wallace said. “Average incomes around the three-county area are all below that.” Michigan benefit amounts have not changed since 1988.

“Only 49 percent actually save anything for retirement,” said Wallace, who spoke as the guest of Cathy Merrill. “You don’t own stock when you’re trying to get to the end of the month without running out of money. I did consulting for a business owner with 40 $8-an-hour employees averaging 26 hours a week, and he’s bitching to me about his taxes. I’m thinking, ‘Every one of these people is collecting food stamps and unemployment from you at the same time. If you paid them $12 an hour for 36 hours a week, they wouldn’t qualify and your taxes could come down. We rank 18th in reading our own language, 28th in science and 32nd in math, and we’re supposed to lead the world? We can’t even feed our people. A person who lives in poverty is just as valuable a human being as you, they just don’t have some of the resources.”

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