Front Door, Back Door, Economic Chasm: Not a PBS Series
In scenes reminiscent of the PBS series "Upstairs, Downstairs," and "Downton Abbey," a luxury condominium complex in New York City's Upper West Side, according to an agreement reached between the developers and City government, when completed, will contain a door for use by wealthy residents only, and a separate door for lower-income tenants. In exchange for permission to build a bigger and taller building, the developers have agreed to include 55 affordable rent-regulated units.
Residents living in these more "affordable" apartments within high-end complexes throughout the City are usually restricted from availing themselves of amenities granted to wealthy occupants, including swimming pools, gyms, and tennis and basketball courts. Since traditionally in New York City the majority of renters and buyers paying market rates for housing are white and the majority of tenants living in rent-regulated units are people of color, these sorts of "agreements" promote legalized segregation based on skin color and the color of money.
No matter how utterly offensive we may consider this arrangement, it does not even begin to represent the enormous economic gap and segregation of communities in the United States today. While economic disparities plague all nations across the planet, nowhere are these disparities more extreme than in the United States. No other problem affects the security and the very survival of our nation and other nations across our ever-shrinking planet more than the income and resource gap between the rich and the poor.
From the time of our birth and throughout our lives, we are told and continually retold the tale of meritocracy. The story goes something like this: For those of us living in the United States, it matters not from which station of life we came. We each have been born into a system that guarantees us equal and equitable access of opportunity. Success is ours through hard work, study, and ambition, and by deferring gratification for later in life. Those who do not achieve success must accept personal responsibility. Maybe they did not try hard enough. Maybe they failed to scale any barriers that could have been placed in their way because they did not have the will, the fortitude, the intelligence, the character, or because they simply made bad choices.
Though this narrative stands as the foundation on which this country was constructed, many of us see it for the lie and the fabrication that it is. This ruling class tool, this form of hegemony serves the purpose of mitigating challenges to the inherent and inevitable inequities in "free market" Capitalism, and, therefore, not only perpetuates, but expands the ever-increasing gulf within the socioeconomic class structure.
In the United States, the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.
In 2012, 46.5 million people (15.0 percent) in the United States lived below the poverty line, with 16.1 million (21.8 percent) children under the age of 18. Approximately 49.0 million lived in food insecure households (available food depleted before the end of the month), including 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.
The compensation of corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725% between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers' salaries have increased a mere 5.7% over the same period. Today's official national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00lessaccounting for inflation compared to the minimum wage in 1968.
The top financial rewards went to only 400 people increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392% while their average tax ratefellby 37%. These same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 50% of the U.S. population combined.
A few individual families own 20, or 30, or 40, or more fast food franchises while paying their workers less than a living wage, as 26% of fast food employees are parents raising children, and 68% are the major wage earners for their families, and many of our people go hungry as Congress fights to eliminate the food stamp and school lunch safety nets. In reality, a McDonald's employee must work the equivalent of 930 years to match the salary that the CEO makes in a single year.
Some families have the privilege of purchasing two, or three, or four, or five, or even six homes that they occasionally visit depending on their current mood like the rest of us choose which pair of underwear to don for the day, and many of our people, including youth, go homeless.
Ultimately, no one really wins when millions of people have been shut out of the economy. No one wins when people don't have the money to spend on the goods and services in the stores owned and managed by the rich. No one wins when the upper 10 percent own approximately 73 percent of the nation's wealth, and only 85 of the wealthiest individuals own the equivalent of the lowest 3.5 billion (with a "B") people in the world. If this continues unabated, nationwide and worldwide economic disaster and political upheaval will inevitably ensue.
Returning to the example of the two-tiered (multi-tiered) New York City condominium structure, what we are witnessing is a postmodern version of the high-walled city center of Medieval times protecting the nobility from peasants and marauding bands, and the 20th-century gated communities meant to keep out thieves and bandits. These hermetically-sealed containers, nonetheless, eventually imprison us all.