Monday, March 18, 2013

Miplaced Animosity or When Things Turn Ugly

The place where I reside, Ocean County New Jersey, is generally speaking, a comfortable place to live.

It has one major flaw, however, and I'm sure it's one shared  with many other communities like it throughout the United States.

As the United States has become more oligarchical (its concentration of wealth and political power owned by fewer and fewer people) communities by and large have not adjusted to this new reality. In fact, according to a report by the progressive advocacy group Upworthy, the majority of Americans have a very unrealistic and uninformed understanding of what the actual distribution of wealth in America is. To see a video of the report click here.

What the report essentially says is that of the 54 trillion dollars of annual wealth the United States creates, the wealthiest 1% of Americans own 40%. And it does not trickle down evenly or equitably from there.  The bottom 80% own only 7%, and the lowest 20% -- our poor -- own none.

It's not always been this way. In 1976, the top 1% owned 9% of the nation's wealth. (That's still a lot of wealth owned by relatively few people. But, evidently, not enough.) 

My point here is that economic reality in America has changed (radically) but peoples perceptions, for the most part, have not adjusted to it at all. (We can get together and drink and sing Kumbaya all night long and wish back the 'good old days' -- but they are gone, at least for right now.)

Which brings me back to the subject of this post: the present reality and 'Misplaced Animosity'.

In the charming sounding County of Ocean, there is not a single shelter for people and families that have become homeless and destitute in this 'new economy'.

As a result of this, the local homeless have taken it upon themselves to provide their own shelter . They created what has become somewhat infamously known as 'Tent City', a cluster of about 80 individuals and families. It's 'infamous' because I have heard reports about it on National Public Radio (NPR) and The British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Like the protestors who occupied Wall Street last summer, Tent City has become something of a dramatic symbol of the direction the US has chosen to go economically.(The 1% and the rest of us.)

Well, that's the way it's perceived from a safe distance. Right here at home, in lovely Ocean County, it has become a contentious (and vitriolic) issue, bringing out the best, and worst, in human nature.

Last week, a judge ordered the residents of  'Tent City' to evacuate and that the state would then provide them with a year of housing.

Some people saw this as simply a humane solution to a vexing and intractable problem.  But just as many, if not more people, resented the state for providing them with housing.


The 'new American economy' has not only increased the number of Americans living in poverty, but it has also taken a significant amount of wealth away from those living in what used to be called the middle class.  In real, everyday terms, it means that more and more people are struggling financially, and as their frustration grows, so does their anger, which needs a target. Unfairly, in my opinion, that animosity all too often gets misdirected at the poor. 

It is very understandable that when you are struggling to make ends meet and you hear about some one else getting a 'free ride' you are going to feel slighted and get angry about it.

But pick the right target for that well-deserved anger. The poor receiving assistance are simply the most visible and easy target.  And, in truth, what state and federal governments pay out in assistance to the poor is miniscule when taken in context to the economy as a whole.(The poor in America are, quite literally,  subsisting off of the crumbs that somehow manage to find their way to the bottom.)

I'm not advocating 'blaming' anyone for the present state of the economy. But  if you want to vent your anger and frustration about it, then how about directing it at the exorbitantly wealthy and the milquetoast politicians they so easily manipulate and control? (By the way, the recent surge on Wall Street added over 100 billion dollars to the economy. 'How did that affect your wallet?'  If you still believe in 'trickle down', then God bless you?!)

So, besides armed insurrection, what can one do about this blatant monopolization of wealth and power?

I wish I had an answer

All I am calling for here  -- until the answer reveals itself -- is to not make the poor the brunt of our collective anger and frustration over the present state of the economy.

They don't deserve it, and it's a waste of  our time and energy to misdirect it at them.

I've initiated a petition to address one important aspect of this problem, insuring that there is housing assistance available to those Americans who need it.  Here's a link to the petition.

Please, in turn, let me know what you are doing about this growing problem of economic inequality in America -- besides fretting about it and cursing the poor.  

Please send your comments and suggestions to my Facebook group, Advocate for Economic Fairness!

In the meantime, Que vaya con Dios!


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