That’s the headline of a new report released yesterday by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Institute, revealing the income gap in Virginia has grown dramatically, reaching a 30-year high. Virginia now boasts a bigger disparity between rich and poor than all but one other state.
The news likely isn’t that surprising to the vast swaths of Americans who have been struggling to make ends meet while the top 1% do better than ever. While our economy actually grew the last couple of years, working people didn’t feel the gains because nearly all of the economic growth went to pad corporate profits instead of increasing American workers’ incomes. While the rich get richer, the American Dream seems further away to middle-class Americans who work harder than ever to get nowhere.
The Founding Fathers understood the danger to democracy posed by concentrating great wealth in the hands of just a few. James Madison said “the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few.” Republican President Abraham Lincoln decried the influence of the “money powers” and “Bankers” who “endeavor to prolong [their] reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed.”
The “Romney Rule” exemplifies this dangerous status quo: millionaires like Mitt Romney paying lower taxes than middle class families. President Obama’s proposed “Buffett Rule” to ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share has been dead on arrival in Congress – where the majority of representatives are millionaires, running campaigns funded by more millionaires.
Conservative cries that proposals like the Buffett rule constitute “class welfare” illustrate how much they just don’t get about how those millionaires made their money. As Elizabeth Warren so eloquently put it:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there–good for you! But I want to be clear.
You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.
You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.
You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.
You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea–God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.
But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Virginians get this. Americans get this. They’re taking to Wall Street and cities across the country to demonstrate their frustration. Its no wonder the Occupy Wall Street movement is more popular than the Tea Party or Republicans in Congress. The Occupy Wall Street Movement is made up of Americans from all walks of life who are tired of not being heard. Wall Street and big corporations are raking in record profits instead of hiring people. The richest 1% are leaving the rest of us behind.
Its time we focused on returning to the principles that made American great and created the American Dream in the first place. Policies that put Americans back to work and money in folks’ pockets are the first step towards getting us back on the right track. The rest of us just can’t afford to keep subsidizing the success of the top 1%.