Government and Public Welfare

by Ralph Scharnau

The headlines proclaim a booming economy with historic low inflation and unemployment rates. But these cheery statistics hold no reality for millions of people coping with immediate or looming insecurity.

The evidence for the gloom seems clear. Inflation-adjusted middle-class wages have been stagnant for the last 40 years. Meanwhile income of the top 1% has nearly tripled. Inequality continues to grow with the gap between rich and poor widening. And today’s average workers are often employed at jobs marked by automation, outsourcing, declining union protection, and employer hostility.

Savings accounts are the farthest thing from the minds of millions of U.S. workers still struggling to meet their regular living expenses. Their income barely covers the costs of housing payments, clothing, child care, health care, food, and transportation. Many of them hold two or even three jobs just to meet these basic needs

A car problem, illness, or an unexpected emergency can overwhelm their capacity to pay. They may face bankruptcy during an emergency caused by large medical bills, job loss, or workplace injury.

The issues here reflect a distinct political divide. A lot of words have been spilled in the media about the highly partisan tone of politics. But there are clear differences between Democrats and Republicans on economic and other vital issues.

Democrats want to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Currently, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly ten years. Workers living on that wage continue to lose purchasing power due to inflation. Republicans show little or no interest in raising the minimum wage.

Government can help average citizens by reducing the number of subsidies and tax write-offs to giant corporations. The Trump-Republican tax plan has further enriched executives, not workers. Already a number of giant corporations, like Amazon, Wal-Mart, Apple, IBM, and Chevron, pay no federal taxes at all.

When economic development plans fail, moreover, companies raise prices, cut employees, and seek assistance from government. Laborers pay the price through firings, layoffs, or transfers to other workplaces.

The United States today does not hold the number one ranking compared to other industrialized countries. For example, our land-based power grid, roads/rails/bridges, and our air-traffic control system lag behind other industrialized nations.

Under the Trump administration, moreover, foreign relations are chaotic. Personal whim rather than reasoned policy prevails. This strains diplomacy and trade negotiations. It also complicates arms control and climate talks.

Republican-controlled government seems more and more like a privileged oligarchic sanctuary for the rich. Whether its health care legislation, protecting the environment, supporting workers, advocating for minorities, or promoting safety, profits and wealth “trump” all other concerns where ever Republicans dominate politically.

Yet, Democrats generally push programs to help people, not profits. The Democratic Party’s economic, labor, and financial programs are designed to promote the common good. They also sponsor public welfare measures to protect the environment, uphold decent health care standards for all, support fair workplace conditions, and advocate equal opportunities for minorities, women, LGBTQ and transgender folks. The Republican Party’s platform offers only unrestrained individualism, reduced government spending, and privatization as the best answer to these socio-economic issues.

Republicans have ushered in a political era marked by splendor for the rich and scarcity for many, many others. Democrats insist this is neither inevitable nor democratic. They argue that community-oriented common good should take precedence over unrestrained individualism. All people should have access to a decent standard of living regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, and economic status.

Ralph Scharnau
May 30, 2019

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