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A battle closer to home

11/15/2011, 11:06 a.m.
“Man, maybe we need to look closer to home....
“Man, maybe we need to look closer to home. ”

A battle closer to home

“Occupy Wall Street” and similar protests across the country have generated concern about the nation’s income disparity. There is considerable anger directed at banks and other financial institutions, but most damaging of all is a loss of faith in a sense of national unity.

Americans do not begrudge the financial success of others. However, they do expect that there should be fair play and provision for those who have fallen to the safety net. There is a sense now that we live in an exploitative society.

The protests indicate that people have begun to understand that citizens must be vigilant to preserve integrity in government. Indeed, it is difficult for the people to counter the efforts of highly paid, professional lobbyists who are hired to influence legislation for the benefit of corporations and the wealthy.

Nonetheless, the price of passivity is too steep. Citizens must be prepared to intervene against predatory practices of public officials at lower levels of government. People were shocked to learn that the head of the Chelsea Housing Authority was paid $360,000 a year. He was reported to be the highest paid director in the country, although Chelsea has a population of only 35,177.

Robert Healy, the Cambridge city manager, earns $336,317 per year. Cambridge has a population of only 105,162. Healy earns substantially more than Tom Menino, the mayor of Boston, who earns $169,750 and Deval Patrick, governor of the Commonwealth, with a meager salary of $139,833. There is a major disparity here.

The press should keep an eagle eye on local government to report any such abuses and enable the people to take appropriate steps to assure fidelity and transparency among public officials. An alert citizenry will help to curtail major duplicity before it takes hold.

The vanishing middle class

To a person with limited income who is struggling to make ends meet, it makes little difference that the Census Bureau has established new standards to define poverty. In fact it makes no difference at all because the old standards still determine eligibility for benefits under poverty programs.

Nonetheless, the new measure includes the impact of items such as formerly omitted food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit in order to enable policy makers to evaluate government programs. Expansion of both of those programs by President Obama helped 11 million people move beyond the poverty line last year.

New considerations such as taxes, out-of-pocket medical expenses, work expenses and child care costs also depress the economic standard of middle class families. The study found that families earning more than four times the income of a family of four at the poverty level — $97,372 — represented only 17 percent of the population. That is less than half the 36 percent under the official calculation.

Under the new measure the national poverty rate rose only slightly — up from 15.2 percent to 16 percent. However, the new method of calculating living expenses made it easier for a family earning $100,000 to no longer consider themselves middle class. The cost of living has eroded their lifestyle.

The loss of the middle class is indeed not a myth.