It Takes More Than Money To Remain Unequal

Ed Raymond

One Percenters are complaining. It takes dedication, perseverance, innumerable hours, and a helleva lot of money to stay elite. The toil starts in early childhood. It is normal for the rich living in big cities to apply to at least ten kindergartens for a spot for their elite young, often exposed to writing essays, revealing interviews and nosy appraisals in order to pay at least $50,000 for a kindergarten year.

After that year it’s arranging for a limo to take Elite,Jr .to the private elementary school. Then comes elite middle and high schools where the pressure to succeed is very high. To stay on top, students must complete three to five hours of homework per school day. Private shrinks are alarmed at the problems of sleep deprivation and depression among the elite young.

Wealthy students do more drugs and alcohol than poor students. Of course, they can afford more. But they also suffer depression and panic anxiety at triple the rate of the poor. Research at a prominent Silicon Valley high school showed that a whopping 54% had moderate to severe depression and 80% indicated moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety. These students already understand to maintain the position in society their parents have attained they must get into Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, or Yale. There are so many rich kids fighting for admittance to elite universities their chances of getting in are getting tougher. As an example, 25 years ago the University of Chicago accepted about 30% of its applicants. In 2019 it accepted only 6%.

However, the poor find it almost impossible to break into the top 5%. “Opportunity” studies indicate that only one of every 100 children born into the bottom 20% will accomplish that jump. The ratio is one out 50 in the bottom 20% to 40% income bracket. The study shows that only half of middle-class children will out-earn their parents in their lifetime.

Some Suffer Miracles And Make The Big Time

In a country of 330 million we will probably always have a few children who will surprise. Wayne Gretsky, considered to be the finest hockey player to ever play the game, was not the fastest skater or the best stick handler--or the toughest guy on the ice. But he had a quality that very few other players possessed. When asked by a reporter to describe his success, Gretsky put it this way: “I don’t go to where the puck is, I go to where it’s going to be.”

In the game of professional football, strength, speed, and mobility are endlessly cataloged at trials called combines by the National Football League. The best college players are invited to display their skills, speed, and strength. The strongest, fastest, mobile, and most flexible are drafted higher with bigger bonuses. But sometimes some other qualities are missed.

Here’s the combine report on one invited player in 2000: “Poor build—Skinny—Lacks great physical stature and strength—Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush—Lacks a really strong arm—Can’t drive the ball downfield—Does not throw a really tight spiral—System-type player who can get exposed if forced to ad lib—Gets knocked down easily.” This player was not drafted until the sixth round. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is still probably the most feared quarterback in the NFL at age 42. He has won the Most Valuable Player Award in four Super Bowls and the Most Valuable Player Award in the league three times. Evidently he has corrected some of the faults described in the combine report. He has six Super Bowl rings and currently holds 54 NFL records going into his 20th season. I guess the NFL tests need some work.

 Another of my rising-from-the-ashes favorite characters is “Big Daddy” Libscomb, a  defensive tackle who led Baltimore to two NFL titles back in the ‘50’s. He was born poor to the Bottom One Percent. His father died when he was three; his mother was stabbed 47 times when he was eleven. He was raised by his maternal grandparents who treated him like a slave, forcing him to work a midnight shift in a steel mill when he was in high school. From his shift he went directly to high school where he starred in football and basketball. 

When 18 he joined the Marines and played football at Camp Pendleton. A pro scout noticed his play and signed him to a contract. He later listed the Marines as his “college.” At Baltimore he made All-Pro twice and in 1957 led the team with 137 tackles. His coach said:”He was one of the best tacklers there ever was. When Big Daddy wrapped a guy with those long arms, he stayed wrapped.” I will always remember an interview he had with a reporter. Asked what his job was, Big Daddy replied in “street” English: “When de come running around my end, I sorts them all out and keep de guy with the ball!” A memorable  character—so there is some hope for everybody.

Some Of The Ten Percent Realize Money Isn’t Everything

Many of top Ten Percent lawyers, investment bankers, and corporate managers are beginning to realize that to maintain their income at astronomical levels requires an astronomical number of hours. In 1962 elite lawyers depended upon 1,300 fee-earning hours per year to maintain the good life. But forty years later one of the major law firms  told lawyers if they wanted to become a partner it was reasonable to ask them to work 2,400 fee-earning hours. Breaking that down, it meant working annually from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for six days of the week—without a vacation! 

Corporate managers used to climb higher on the management ladder by seniority, consequently earning more free time. Today, elite managers are rewarded steps on the ladder by working harder for longer hours. Ask managers at Amazon, Google, and WalMart about their workloads. About two-thirds of elite managers say if they were offered a promotion from their present status they would reject it so they had more free family hours. The dean of the Stanford Law School spoke the truth to graduates when he reminded them that higher salaries in law firms require more billable hours to support them, and longer hours require yet higher salaries to justify them. What’s that animal that keeps the cage going faster?

 Many workers in the bottom 90 Percent have other worries—particularly low pay and too many hours working two jobs. Workers battled from the last two decades of the 19th Century, often facing machineguns of corporations or the government, to form the trade unions that eventually brought middle-class homes and lifestyles to the majority of Americans after World War II.

The Destruction Of Unions By Republicans

Why have worker’s wages been stagnating for over three decades? Steven Greenhouse has all the answers in his article “Americans Unions Have Been Decimated .No wonder Inequality Is Skyrocketing.”: “Congress hasn’t raised the minimum wage in a decade, the longest stretch without such an increase since it was first enacted in 1938. One state legislature after another has passed right-to-work laws to undermine unions. Donald Trump has taken numerous anti-worker actions: scrapping several worker safety rules, rolling back a regulation extending overtime pay to millions more workers, and killing a rule that required Wall Street firms to act in the best interests of workers when overseeing their 401(k) plans. (Corporations had already dropped many pension plans!) Trump has even nominated as labor secretary a lawyer who has spent decades fighting on behalf of corporations to weaken worker protections.” This is the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who spent his court lifetime voting against worker’s rights.

As unions were weakened by Republicans by both state and federal action, changes in campaign fund laws allowed the wealthy to subdue the power of union negotiations and the ability to strike. At one time union membership was over 35%. Now only 10.5% of the work force belongs to unions.
Right-To-Work laws, derisively called “right-to-work-for-less” in Democratic states, have been passed in 27 states by Republican-dominated legislatures. These are not alternative facts: wages in RTW states are 3.2% lower than those in non-RTW states, a difference of over $1,500 a year, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance is 2,6% lower than in RTW states,  and there are so many differences in laws relating to compensation in RTW and non-RTW states I just don’t have room to list them. RTW states are generally in the South and Midwest, and many depend upon federal tax money from Democratic states to balance their budgets.

The Best States And The Worst States To Be A Taxpayer

There are usually about 15 states that pay more federal taxes than what they keep within the state. They send tax money to help support the other 35. They are called donor states. It’s a fascinating list. The most populous states are mostly Democratic so they send a great deal of money to support much smaller Republican states in the South and Midwest. The list of donor states changes from year to year, often depending on military bases and government contracts to support other federal facilities. The top ten states receiving more tax money than the $1.00 they  send to Washington are as follows: (1) South Carolina gets about $7.80 for every dollar it pays, (2)  North Dakota — $5.30, (3) Florida — $4.60, (4) Louisiana — $3.30, (5) Alabama — $3.20, (6) Hawaii — $3.08, (7) Mississippi — $3.02, (8) New Mexico — $2.80, ((9) Kentucky — $2.40, and (10)West Virginia — $2.20. The ten states that receive less than a dollar for each dollar they send to Washington are: (1) Delaware — $.50, (2) Minnesota — $.52, (3) Illinois — $.53, (4) Nebraska — $.57, (5) Ohio — $.68, (6) Kansas — $.75, (7) New York — $.81, (8) Colorado — $.87, (9) Utah — $.92, and (10) New Jersey — $.94.

Almost 200 years ago a visitor from France named Alexis de Tocqueville told American leaders that industrial capitalism (now called “disaster” capitalism)  would, in the end, create economic inequality between owners and wage-workers that would divide us culturally, morally, and socially. Was he right! CEO pay has skyrocketed over the last generation while worker wagers have stagnated during the same time. Today’s government pays no attention to wage earners and farmers while being excessively responsive to the very wealthy and all of the think-tanks funded by them. This allows the rich and big corporations to rig the political rules (think gerrymandering, voter suppression, and white cops watching blacks vote) to benefit the Ten Percent. The real danger is that these conditions may become permanent. Can democracy survive what industrial and disaster capitalism has created? The solution is only at the ballot box.

A reader sent me a cartoon of a board of directors meeting of a wealthy corporation--or of a White House cabinet meeting--with the following caption: “Before we discuss raising taxes on the poor and the middle-class, adding $1 trillion to the deficit, taking health insurance away from 13 million, raising premiums by 10%, defending treason and swearing in a pedophile, let’s begin with a prayer.” What a country!