Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

February 16, 2014

Fred Goldenberg: Self-reliance and dignity

Eighty-five of the world’s richest people have a combined wealth greater than 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people, according to a recent report issued by Oxfam.

Trying to get your head around a number like this is mind boggling. Eighty-five individuals control more wealth than one-half of the world’s population.

In 2012, the U.S census reported that Michigan had 16.3 percent of its population living in poverty. Those 1,612,987 individuals lack a voice because they lack the power of the dollar. Real power comes from being able to influence the political process by controlling the purse strings. Working at minimum wage leaves little in your purse, let alone any to donate to grease the proverbial political wheel.

The ability to break out of the cycle of poverty can seem impossible. In a recent study done by Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley, it was determined “a child born into poverty in the U.S. in 1993 was just as likely to ascend the economic ladder as a child born into similar circumstances in 1972.” They also found that economic mobility in the U.S. has been stagnant since 1950. One social scientist said that although individuals still have the ability to climb the economic ladder, the rungs on the ladder are getting further apart.

In December 2013, President Obama gave a speech in which he addressed the economic inequality facing the country. Recently the 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), suggested the United States adopt a “Universal Credit” system where all government assistance payments would be placed on a single debt card and, as individuals crossed certain income thresholds, those payments would be reduced and ultimately removed.

The same Paul Ryan called the social safety net a “hammock” in which the unemployed lounge, but now is suggesting that if we streamline our system to provide a sliding scale of benefits, we will save billions of dollars and help people gradually climb out of poverty. His current proposal has merit.

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