Five Facts That Put America to Shame
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...I lift my lampbeside the golden door!" These words, from poet Emma Lazarus, wereinscribed on the Statue of Liberty over 100 years ago. Today the goldendoor has a lock on it, paid for with record profits from the health care,education, and financial industries.
1. We're near the bottom of the developed world in children's health andsafety
According to a 2007 UNICEF report, the U.S. ranked last among 21 OECDnations in an assessment of child health and safety. The assessmentmeasured infant mortality, immunization, and death from accidents andinjuries.
A related 2009 OECD study generally agreed, placing the U.S. 24th out of30 OECD countries for children's health and safety. It also showed thedevastating effects of inequality in our country. Despite having thesecond-highest average income for children among the 30 OECD countries,the U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 for child poverty (percentage of childrenliving in households that are below 50% of the median income).
2. We've betrayed the young people who were advised to stay in school
Over 40% of recent college graduates are living with their parents,dealing with government loans that average $27,200. The unemployment ratefor young people is about 50%. More than 350,000 Americans with advanceddegrees applied for food stamps in 2010.
As Washington lobbyists endeavor to kill a proposed bill to reduce theinterest rates on student debt, federal loans remain readily available,and so colleges go right on increasing their tuition.
Meanwhile, corporations hold $2 trillion in cash while looking forinvestments and employees in foreign countries, and American students areforced to accept menial positions. Yet delusions persist about our newgeneration of would-be workers. Conservatives are all bubbly about today'syoung entrepreneurs creating their own jobs -- jobs that "don't yetexist."
3. The main source of middle-class wealth has been largely wiped out
American homeowners owe almost as much as the students, with $700 billionof debt over and above the value of their homes.
This removes the only source of wealth for middle America, especially forblacks and Hispanics. Remarkably, for every dollar of NON-HOME wealthowned by white families, people of color have only one cent.
So when minority families were specifically targeted for high-risk,subprime loans that could be re-packaged and sold for a quick short-termprofit, most of their assets were erased. Median wealth fell 66% forHispanic households and 53% for black households. For whites the declinewas 16%.
With a disturbing note of irony, Sanford Weill, the banker largelyresponsible for the reversal of the mortgage-protecting Glass-SteagallAct, was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences for"extraordinary accomplishment and a call to serve."
4. We give prison sentences for smoking marijuana, but not for billion-dollar fraud
About half of our world-leading prison population is in jail fornon-violent drug offenses. Americans have also been arrested for handingout free food in a park. Mothers in Ohio and Connecticut were jailed forenrolling their kids in out-of-district schools. As of 2003 in Californiathere were 344 individuals serving sentences of 25 years or more forshoplifting as a third offense, in many cases after two non-violentoffenses.
How does the market deal with this steady tide of petty crime? It strivesfor more. The new trend of private prisons is dependent on maintaining asizable prison population to guarantee profits, with no incentive forrehabilitation.
As the number of inmates has surged, the people who devastated countlessAmerican lives "get out of jail free." The savings and loan fraud cost thenation between $300 billion and $500 billion, about 100 times more thanthe total cost of burglaries in 2010. The financial system bailout hasalready cost the country $3 trillion. Goldman Sachs packaged bad debt,sold it under a different name, persuaded ratings services to label itAAA, and then bet against their own financial creation by selling itshort. Other firms accused of fraud and insider trading were MorganStanley, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Countrywide Financial, and WellsFargo. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the Justice Department hadpostponed the bribery or fraud prosecutions of over 50 corporations,choosing instead to enter into agreements involving fines and 'monitoring'periods.
5. You can have health care, if you pay for it
A recent Commonwealth Fund study compared U.S. health care spending to 12other OECD countries. The data shows that reducing our costs to the medianlevel of spending among the OECD countries would save us $1.5 trillion ayear, more than our entire deficit.
Unfortunately, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies andhospital administrators won't hear of it. There's too much money to bemade. Bypass surgery in the U.S. costs 2 to 3 times more than in GreatBritain, Canada, France, and Germany. Cataract surgery costs 4 times more.
That's if you can pay for it. There are currently about 50 millionuninsured Americans. At the other extreme are $2,400 oxymoronic penthousehospital suites complete with butler and grand piano. Or, for those whodon't get out much, emergency rooms in the home, with private cell-phoneaccess to "concierge doctors."
Inequality in our country is so severe that 120,000 health care workerscould have been hired with the salary paid to one man. That's a $40,000salary for 40 health care workers for every one of the 3,000 counties inthe United States. Instead, $5 billion dollars went to one man whoreportedly made his first big haul ($4 billion, in 2007) by conspiringwith Goldman Sachs in the above-mentioned short sale subterfuge.
The result of ignoring the health needs of the greater population,according to a report in the Annual Review of Public Health, is that "thehealth rankings of the United States have declined substantially whencompared with other nations."
Privatization simply hasn't worked for health care, mortgage banking,higher education, or prison management. There is little incentive forprofit-motivated firms to invest in disadvantaged or underemployedAmericans. That's why taxes are necessary -- to provide for the commongood, and to return some of the gains from 60 years of productivity to thegreat majority of Americans who contributed to our growth. Unfortunately,the golden door on the Statue of Liberty seems to have an invisible handholding it shut.