Posted by Barbara Ehrenreich at TomDispatch, March 15, 2012 —
We call it “the nation’s capital,” but that’s increasingly a misnomer. Consider Congress, where as last year ended 250 members, or 47% of our representatives, were millionaires, and the estimated median net worth of a senator was $2.56 million. Or consider the city of movers, shakers, and lobbyists they live in. In Washington D.C., “the top fifth of earners in the District make an average of 29 times the income of the bottom fifth.” In average annual household salary that translates as $259,000 versus $9,100. For the capital’s top 5%, that number is $473,000, “far above the $292,000 averaged by their counterparts in other large cities.”
Washington as the people’s capital? More reasonably, it’s the capital of American wealth in a country in which the super-rich, after taking some lumps in the Great Recession, are again outpacing everyone else. As TomDispatch regular Barbara Ehrenreich points out, half a century ago Michael Harrington pointed a finger at the world of American poverty, calling it “the other America” — and that label stuck. Today, in a country where Hispanic and African American wealth was nearly wiped out by the bursting of the housing bubble, the elderly have increasingly seen their savings evaporate, and the poor are ever less “other” and ever more us, a new Harrington might consider labeling the world of the wildly rich, that 1% and their eternal bonuses, as “the real other America.”
It’s all too fitting that the leading Republican presidential candidate is a quarter-billionaire. He may be running as a Washington outsider, but unlike most Americans, he’ll be right at home in the new Washington.
Ehrenreich’s post today is the beginning of something new. With it, she launches the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (developed with colleagues from the Institute for Policy Studies and the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism). Beginning this spring, it will pay laid-off or underemployed journalists to produce original work on what she calls the “greased chute” of poverty. Stay tuned, you’ll hear more about it at this website or you can check out it out early at EconomicHardship.org. Her latest piece is a joint TomDispatch/Nation article and will appear in print in the new issue of that magazine. Tom