A Box of Soap

To say that you are worried about America’s future is no different than saying you are worried about America’s children.  Last week we learned that just more than 50 percent of public school children are now from low-income homes.  In the same week we learned that the world’s richest 80 men collect the same income as the world’s three and a half billion poorest citizens.  The richest one percent will control half the world’s wealth by sometime in 2016.  That’s half for one percent, the other half for the 99 percent.  Even Congressional leadership is beginning to publicly speak of this inequity as a problem.  Is it time to connect the dots?

Income level is now the surest indicator of successful outcomes in public schools.  Achievement gap is more reliably predicted by wealth than skin color.  Children from low income families often have more hurdles to clear than their financially stable classmates.  They often face disadvantages in hygiene, health, nutrition and sometimes safety and nurture in their homes.  There is humiliation in poverty.    

We are fond of telling ourselves that America is the land of opportunity.  Anyone can rise from humble origin to become a success—societal or financial.  It isn’t borne out by reality.  Upward mobility is a hard thing to measure, but in our country children of poverty most often remain trapped in poverty and the children of affluent parents usually grow into the same prosperity. Since the 1960s the achievement gap between low income and higher income students has increased by forty percent. Raised in a 1950s small town, my assumption that we all progressed through K-12 learning about the same stuff and graduated with a common body of knowledge now seems like wishful thinking.   

It may help to view this as a national security problem. If America can only remain safe and strong by producing healthy and well-educated citizens then that is our first responsibility.  We seem to have turned our backs to it.

Since 2009 the stock market has grown by 60 percent, GDP is up eight percent, and corporate profit as percentage of national income is at a record high while median household income shriveled by five percent.  Any talk of reversing this trend through legislation is called “class warfare.”

Since 1952 corporate taxes as share of all revenues has dropped from 33 percent to 9 percent. That’s class warfare.  Since 1963 the top personal income tax rate has fallen from 91 percent to 36.9 percent. That’s class warfare.  We all tend to socialize and congregate with people about like ourselves.  Congress does the same. It is a millionaire’s club that is demonstrably passing legislation in correlation with the views of wealthy America.  Intentional or not, that’s class warfare.  Is a hedge fund manager or a schoolteacher more instrumental in forging future citizens?

Even more inflammatory is raising the “socialism” bogeyman. In the Scandinavian countries income is distributed more evenly.  I’m not sure why.  More significantly they have the best education systems in the world.  Their education investment begins in children from one to five years old. They continue to support them by tracking them in high school and then making college affordable to qualified students.  These countries know how to prepare for their future. Maybe we can call it something besides socialism while still matching that dedication in taking care of America’s children.  Our future and theirs depends on it.

(Don Vowell gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)