The Poor Get Poorer, The Rich Get SUVs


By Stephanie Salter

San Francisco Examiner
April 11,1999

The following quotations are from news stories that have appeared since January. The italicized paragraphs are from "Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap," published by the Boston-based organization, United for a Fair Economy.

"Washington, D.C - Hundreds of thousands of America's children are suffering from disease, hunger, serious injury and educational failure from living in substandard shelter, says a new nationwide report. ...

"Among the key findings of the report: 21,000 children have stunted growth and 120,000 suffer from anemia because their families must choose between food and rent; 10,000 children between the ages of 4 and 9 are hospitalized for asthma attacks each year because of cockroach infestation at home."

In its 1998 survey of 30 major cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that requests for emergency shelter by homeless families had risen 15 percent during the past year; 30 percent of the requests went unmet. The mayors also found that more than one-fifth of the urban homeless were employed.


The American Journal of Public Health reported in 1998 that 10 million Americans - including more than 4 million children - do not have enough to eat. The majority are in families with at least one employed person. ...

For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1999, the mortgage (tax) deduction will add up to about $53.7billion. That's $23 billion more than the total 1998 federal spending by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"New York - Stocks rallied to new highs, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing above 10,000 for the second time in history after the latest jobs report showed the economy may be slowing enough to keep the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates."

Between 1983 and 1995, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index delivered a huge cumulative return of 582 percent (with dividends reinvested). At the same time, the median household net worth dropped 11 percent.


Less than one-third of households (29 percent) owned stock worth more than $5,000 in 1995. Almost 90 percent of the value of all stocks and mutual funds owned by households was in the hands of the top 10 percent.

"Traders were buoyed by a Labor Department report that just 46,000 new jobs were created in February, the smallest increase in three years. The report calmed investor fears that the economy was growing too fast and that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates to slow it down."

Hourly wages for average workers in 1998 were 6.2 percent below 1973, adjusting for inflation; weekly wages were 12 percent lower than in 1973... The average worker worked 148 more hours in 1996 than their 1973 counterpart; that's equivalent to nearly four weeks longer. ...

The average CEO in Business Week's annual survey made 326 times the pay of factory workers in 1997... compared to 1980, when CEOs made 42 times as much.

"New York - America Online Inc. announced it will cut up to 20 percent of Netscape's staff, or up to 500 workers, as it absorbs the pioneering software maker in a $10 billion acquisition. ...

"(The cuts) should hit such back-office operations as accounting but will largely leave alone Netscape's coveted group of 550 software developers and managers."

"Boston - BankBoston Corp. and Fleet Financial Group announced they will merge in a $16 billion stock deal that creates a regional powerhouse in the consolidating U.S. banking industry. ... The merger would create an institution with $180 billion in assets and 20 million customers but also would result in the loss of more than 4,500 jobs."

The U.S. personal savings rate has fallen from 8.6 percent in 1984 to 2.1 percent in 1997 and 0.5 percent in 1998.

Debt as a percentage of personal income rose from 58 percent in 1973 to 76 percent in 1989 to an estimated 85 percent in 1997. ...

Total credit card debt soared from $243 billion in 1990 to $560 billion in 1997. ... As of 1997, almost 60 percent of all American households carried credit card balances. The balances averaged more than $7,000, costing these households more than $1,000 per year in interest and fees.

"Americans ended 1998 with a spending spree, giving the economy momentum as it entered the new year. ... Personal income jumped 0.5 percent in December, the best gain in 10 months. ... Spending surged an even stronger 0.8 percent. ... Because Americans spent more than they earned in December, their personal savings rate went negative - to minus 0.1 percent." The top 1 percent of households have more wealth than the entire bottom 95 percent... (and) nearly half of all financial wealth (net worth minus net equity in owner-occupied housing). ... The richest 12 percent of households have 42 percent of the financial wealth. The net worth of the poorest fifth of households averaged minus $5,600 in 1997. That's down from minus $3,000 in 1983.

"Detroit - The Ford Excursion, to go on sale in the fall, is the biggest sport utility vehicle yet: 3.5 tons, and at 19 feet nearly a foot longer than the Chevrolet/GMC Suburban. A nine-seat colossus... the Excursion features a beefy V10 engine that gets 12 miles a gallon."

At about $50,000, the total net worth of the median American household just about matches the projected sticker price of Ford's new supersized sport utility vehicle, the Excursion.

More Information on Inequality and Wealth Distribution

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