As the rich and poor are distinctly divided in the U.S. and the American government allows wealth to be controlled by a small number of people, the country now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries, and it comes as no surprise that “the American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion”.
“So far, that seems to be a lesson of this virus: it shows us who and what gets protected, as the ship sinks. On the Titanic, it was women and children. With Covid-19, it’s the wealthy and powerful,” said an article published on The Guardian in March. It sharply pointed out the disorder and injustice in the U.S. regarding the coronavirus testing.
Up to now, the number of Americans seeking food assistance has increased significantly over the same period last year, and that of applicants for unemployment relief has continued to rise on a monthly basis. The underclass in the U.S. is faced with severe crisis of survival.
Like a driving rain, the epidemic has made clearer the gap between the rich and the poor in the American society.
In April, The Atlantic, an American magazine, observed that when lower-income people get sick, they oftentimes delay going to the doctor, not because they don’t want to get well, but because they simply don’t have the money.
Philip Alston, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, warned that the poor in the U.S. are being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Low-income and poor people face far higher risks from the coronavirus due to chronic neglect and discrimination, and a muddled, corporate-driven, federal response has failed them,” Alston noted.
Under the attack of the epidemic, the U.S. has seen deeper divisions between rich and poor.
The gap in the U.S. has reached its peak level since the Great Depression in the 1930s. It seems that the poor are trying to survive in stormy seas on driftwood, while wealth keeps flowing to the rich, helping whom create their “Noah’s Ark”.
Data from Feeding America, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, show that more than 50 million people in the U.S. may experience food insecurity, an increase of about 15 million from before the epidemic.
The combined wealth of America’s billionaires stood at $3.5 trillion in June, $565 billion more than that in March, said a report released by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), an American progressive think tank.
In the second quarter of the year, the net worth of American households grew by nearly 7 percent compared with the first quarter, according to data released by the Federal Reserve System (Fed) of the U.S.
However, such wealth mainly flowed to the richest families while still many people received lower incomes or even lost their jobs.
Economic inequality is actually a stable and long-term trend in the U.S., and a widening gap amid the COVID-19 outbreak is merely a new phase of the long-term trend.
As of the end of March, the richest 10 percent of Americans had gained more than two-thirds of the country’s wealth, and the top 1 percent of Americans held 31 percent of the wealth, the Fed pointed out.
From 1989 to 2018, the bottom 50 percent of the population in the U.S. saw basically zero net wealth growth, according to data from the Fed.
At the top, the financial crisis in 2008 could almost be considered a success, while all of the lasting pain was left in the middle and at the bottom, by Americans who had taken on debt and lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings, said an article published on The Atlantic in March.
What the article described is similar to the current situation where the epidemic has worsened the living conditions of the underclass in the U.S.
Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, noted that to reverse economic inequality, a country must establish a set of public mechanisms to ensure that capital serve the overall interests.
However, more and more people have realized that the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is the result of deep-rooted institutional problems. They believe that the U.S. politics has long been manipulated by interest groups so the government is unable to formulate and implement tax, industrial and social security policies that promote social equity.
The Trump Administration has brought in massive tax breaks for corporations and the very wealthy, while orchestrating a systematic assault on the welfare system, according to a report released by Alston in May 2018.
“The strategy seems to be tailor-made to maximize inequality and to plunge millions of working Americans, and those unable to work, into penury,” he said.
The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power, the report continued.
The U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that 27 percent of the benefits of tax cuts in the U.S. would go to the pockets of the richest 1 percent of Americans in 2019.
During the first half of the year, the U.S. Congress rolled out the Paychek Protection Program (PPP) to provide financial assistance for small businesses, in a bid to help them pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. It didn’t take the public long to find out that quite a large amount of the financial assistance went directly to large enterprises.
The increasingly intense money politics in the U.S. has turned the American government into a spokesperson for the rich, and many people don’t expect the gap between the rich and poor to be substantially narrowed in a short period.
The image of the U.S. as “a city upon a hill” is disappearing, said Richard Haass, president of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, in an article in June.
As the rich and poor are distinctly divided in the U.S. and the American government allows wealth to be controlled by a small number of people, the country now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries, and it comes as no surprise that “the American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion” as Alston pointed out.
How can such a country advertise equity and justice to the world?