Jim Hightower

Deep-Six the Bad Numbers


I recently talked with a hospital worker who said she was living on a “fixed income”–and she’s looking for whoever fixed it! Someone who’s not fixing our ailing economy is our beloved George W. His idea of helping America’s hard-hit working families is to give yet another trillion-dollar tax giveaway to the richest people in the country. They’ll use it to create jobs, he says with his self-satisfied smirk. But that’s what he said about his first trillion dollar giveaway to the same rich people two years ago. Since then, we’ve lost more than two million jobs. In just the past few months, there have been mass layoffs by such giants as AOL Time Warner, Boeing, Dow Jones, Goodyear, Kodak, McDonald’s, Merrill Lynch, J.C. Penny, Sara Lee and Verizon–and more to come. These are bad numbers–politically as well as economically. Such mass layoffs are especially embarrassing, because… well, they get noticed by the public. The Labor Department reports that there were more than 2,000 mass layoffs last year. What to do, what to do? “I know,” shouted some eager Bushite. ” Let’s just stop reporting these numbers!” Ahhh, the cleverness, the simplicity, the manipulativeness. So that’s what the Bushites did. Last Christmas Eve, while the media was off having egg nog and dreaming of sugar plum fairies, Bush’s labor department quietly slipped out a four-sentence press release announcing that its Mass Layoff Statistics Program was “discontinued.” The statistical grinches claimed they had to do this because there just wasn’t any money for tracking and reporting such information. The only little glitch in this out-of-sight, out-of-mind scheme is that layoffs aren’t statistics. They’re people, families, communities.


The Wall Street Journal editorial writers have a unique perspective on life: looking down on you and me. These pipe-smoking editorialists are considered the official mouthpiece for the Corporate Nation; they’re constantly carping about how the rich and corporate are just damn near bent over double with the burden of having to support the government with their taxes. Recently, however, they had an astonishing conversion–they came out for more taxes! Not on them and their ilk. On you–the working stiffs and poor folks. You can’t make up stuff this good. The editors wailed about “The Non-Paying Class,” declaring that we hoi polloi “pay little or no taxes” and need to be forced by Washington to pay more in order to relieve the burden of those at the top. Who are these goobers talking about? They singled out a poor, hypothetical schmoe who’s making $12,000 a year and is in the lowest tax bracket. This person, the editors complained, “pays a little less than four percent of income in taxes.” The editors dubbed them “lucky duckies.” Yoo-hooooooo. Earth to you aliens at the Journal. Trying to eke out a living on pay of $12,000 a year is the exact opposite of “lucky.” It’s poverty–and ought not be taxed at all. Plus, when they talk about who pays the most taxes, they’re referring only to federal income taxes, leaving out the thoroughly regressive burdens of our payroll taxes, state and local taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, fees, and a host of other assessments. Add these in and the slobs at the bottom are paying the same rates or higher than the swells at the top. For example, state and local governments sock the poor with taxes that are more than 11 percent of their paltry income. But they let the rich skate by with half as much. If the Journal editors ever want to visit earth, we’d be happy to show them around our neighborhood.


Here’s a novel concept: If you work full time and do a good job, you shouldn’t be paid so poorly that you live in poverty. Try to tell that to the federal government, though. An independent study released by ACORN, the grassroots advocate for the working poor, finds that corporations enjoying fat, tax-paid contracts from the feds are paying poverty wages to the people actually doing the contract work. The same federal government that sets precise standards for, say the tensile strength of screws that it buys, sets no standards for the fair pay of people working under its contracts. The study, conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, revealed that 11 percent of federal contract employees receive less than a “living wage,” which is to say their paychecks are too low to lift them and their families above the poverty level. Ironically, while the companies profit on the backs of these workers, many of the workers themselves have to turn to foodstamps, housing assistance, and other federal poverty programs just to make ends meet. This means that we taxpayers are hit with a double whammy: First, we’re subsidizing low-wage companies, then we have to provide services to assuage the poverty of their workers. Better that the contractors themselves be required to pay fair wages from the start, which is why the Living Wage Responsibility Act has been introduced in Congress, sponsored by Representative Luis Guitierrez of Illinois. It requires big businesses that get federal contracts to pay their employees a wage no less than the federal poverty level.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.