The stated belief is that fatherhood changes a man. There’s recent research that links fatherhood to lower testosterone and there’s now a new study that finds that fathers actually have a lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke. Where fatherhood has changed me is in my economic and political views; I’m not the political man that I was before the birth of my children. The inactions of our political class and actions of our financial elites have inculcated a corrupt system that threatens the ability of my children – our children – to have any meaningful life apart from that of serf or debt slave. If you want a clue of how a guy went from conservative Republican to a man who cheered on Bernie Sanders’ filibuster, try to view the changes in our nation through the prism of how it actually applies to the children.
Forget looking at this for the children. Let’s actually focus on a select group which has identifiable names and faces and in this case, it will be my eldest child’s high school class. If you want to broaden it, then consider all of the kids that you can actually name and recognize from the activities, the bus stop and Chuck E Cheese if that works for you. Eldest is an upperclassman at the local high school and there are about 450 students in her grade. To make this even more interesting, grab a copy of your kid’s high school yearbook and consider these statistics as you page through it.
Recently, ProPublica ran an article that compiled the changes in poverty statistics over the past several years and the changes are informative. What makes them scary is to actually apply them in a real life setting amongst flesh-and-blood human beings that you can identify and who walk through your door.
In one year – 2009 to 2010 – the percentage of those living in poverty with a family-of-four income less than $22314 rose from 14.3 to 15.1. The poverty line for only one person is roughly half that, at $11,139. That means that 68 of Eldest’s classmates will wind up with incomes below the poverty limit when they’re truly functioning economic adults and earning a fulltime – or not – income. They’re less likely to have cohesive families and they will actually face the situation of not eating because their maximum weekly income of $200 won’t cover food, gas and housing.
Of this 15.1%, almost half – 6.7% – aren’t even earning half of the poverty line. So of these 68 classmates – and I can’t be certain that even Eldest won’t be among them – 30 of them will be literally destitute.
The income data is also disturbing. Since the start of the recession – which has technically been over, in case no one informed you – the median household income has dropped by 6.4% to $49,445 and hasn’t been this low since 1996. A full decade and a half of income growth have been wiped away. Since neither I nor anybody else can truly identify any organic income drivers, apart from a mass exodus sponsored by Virgin/Alcoa to mine precious metals on the outer planets of the solar system, Eldest’s classmates are looking at a retrenchment of median family income back to levels of decades ago. Forget wide-screen plasma television and say hello to Betamax. A certain percentage will leave to find employment, perhaps from the planet for Phoebe and Europa, where the occasional hardy pioneer will likely die in an explosive decompression of a faulty airlock. His widow and kids will receive a tidy life-insurance settlement and a year’s free supply of aluminum foil.
Even with "only" about 1 in 6 six Americans in poverty, the grinding down of the economic machine is creating casualties as more than 45 million Americans in over 19 million households now receive some manner of food stamp assistance. That’s approximately 17% of the households (19 million households divided by 112 million total US households) and if Eldest and each classmate forms their own future household, the present number means that 77 kids would receive food stamps. Bear in mind that the food stamp trend has been upward and the currect predicament is that there are no economic drivers to help pull things out going forward. As incomes drop and the cost of food increases – the cost of a sample marketbasket in my area has risen by more than 5.5% – since November 2010, the number of families forced into the food stamp program will steadily climb.
Where things get startling, at least for me, is the application of wealth statistics to Eldest’s class.
Recent data breaks out the distribution of wealth amongst the American society and the top 1% of our households – in terms of income – control almost 35% of wealth (high liquidity assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate and business equity less debt) and the next 19% control an additional 50% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 40% of the households control less than 1% of the nation’s wealth.
Looking at Eldest’s class in a microcosm, more than a third of all of the wealth that they produce would be controlled directly by five of the 450 class members and fully 85% of the wealth would be controlled by 90 of them. The bottom 180 class members would have less than 1% of the cumulative wealth. Because power comes with wealth, the great majority of Eldest’s class will have to hope that these five classmates are decent people given all of the power that they’ll possess. Since those who reach high financial and corporate positions are increasingly questioned as to their psychological makeup – Hmmm, I wonder if Biff is a sociopath? – I doubt that that’s going to generally be the case.
Eldest’s class – our children – is going to be subjected to a lesson in making social Taffy. The stresses of the ongoing economic decline are going to pull more and more downwards on the economic strata and that’s bad enough. But the rules and behaviors that have permitted an increasing few to garner more wealth and power, if left unchecked, are going to pull those few further upwards and the middle is going to be stretched thin to the point at which it breaks completely.
Try something the next time that you see the children line up at the playground, walk onto the stage for an elementary or high school concert or walk through the doors at the dance at which you’ve dropped them. Make a mental count of each sixth child and consign that child to a life of poverty and an inability to even afford sufficient food for their own family. If there are enough, count every other child and consign that child to a life in which they have little wealth and for whom the classic dream of retirement is just that and they can expect to die in the traces.
Then see if your perspective changes when you realize that one of these is your own child.