5 Things That Put America to Shame
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"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" These words, from poet Emma Lazarus, were inscribed on the Statue of Liberty over 100 years ago. Today the golden door has a lock on it, paid for with record profits from the health care, education and financial industries.
1. We're Near the Bottom of the Developed World in Children's Health and Safety
According to a 2007 The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report, the US ranked last among 21 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in an assessment of child health and safety. The assessment measured infant mortality, immunization, and death from accidents and injuries.
A related 2009 OECD study generally agreed, placing the US 24th out of 30 OECD countries for children's health and safety. It also showed the devastating effects of inequality in our country. Despite having the second-highest average income for children among the 30 OECD countries, the US ranked 27th out of 30 for child poverty (percentage of children living in households that are below 50% of the median income).
2. We've Betrayed the Young People Who Were Advised to Stay in School
Over 40% of recent college graduates are living with their parents, dealing with government loans that average $27,200. The unemployment rate for young people is about 50%. More than 350,000 Americans with advanced degrees applied for food stamps in 2010.
As Washington lobbyists endeavor to kill a proposed bill to reduce the interest rates on student debt, federal loans remain readily available, and so colleges go right on increasing their tuition.
Meanwhile, corporations hold $2 trillion in cash while looking for investments and employees in foreign countries, and American students are forced to accept menial positions. Yet, delusions persist about our new generation of would-be workers. Conservatives are all bubbly about today's young entrepreneurs creating their own jobs - jobs that "don't yet exist."
3. The Main Source of Middle-Class Wealth Has Been Largely Wiped Out
American homeowners owe almost as much as the students, with $700 billion of debt over and above the value of their homes.
This removes the only source of wealth for middle America, especially for blacks and Hispanics. Remarkably, for every dollar of non-home wealth owned by white families, people of color have only one cent.
So when minority families were specifically targeted for high-risk, subprime loans that could be re-packaged and sold for a quick short-term profit, most of their assets were erased. Median wealth fell 66% for Hispanic households and 53% for black households. For whites the decline was 16%.
With a disturbing note of irony, Sanford Weill - the banker largely responsible for the reversal of the mortgage-protecting Glass-Steagall Act - was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences for "extraordinary accomplishment and a call to serve."
4. We Give Prison Sentences for Smoking Marijuana, but Not for Billion-Dollar Fraud
About half of our world-leading prison population is in jail for non-violent drug offenses. Americans have also been arrested for handing out free food in a park. Mothers in Ohio and Connecticut were jailed for enrolling their kids in out-of-district schools. As of 2003, in California there were 344 individuals serving sentences of 25 years or more for shoplifting as a third offense, in many cases after two non-violent offenses.
How does the market deal with this steady tide of petty crime? It strives for more. The new trend of private prisons is dependent on maintaining a sizable prison population to guarantee profits, with no incentive for rehabilitation.