Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Congressional wealth rises as Americans founder

In case anyone was still wondering why our political class can't seem to grasp the debilitating effects of poverty, it's no great mystery. It's wealth disparity, of course. But it is a bit surprising to see how wide the wealth gap between the pols and their constituents has grown.
Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.
If they did include home equity, no doubt the gap would be much greater. But it's not just the wealth, it's the disparity between the life experience. Few of our current political overlords, who talk about making hard choices on austerity cuts, have faced the real tough choices of the poor. Whether to get their kid a badly needed new pair of shoes, or pay a utility bill. Between heat and a doctor's visit. Between food and medications. Wondering how long they can ignore that odd noise the car is making before the engine breaks down.

This is why I find it so infuriating to hear the privileged class rail about "entitlements" for the poor and near poor. They have no idea how hard it is to live within the uncertainty of poverty. Like everything in life, if you haven't experienced it yourself, you just can't really imagine what it's like. And for those few who may have actually grown up poor, once you leave poverty behind, it's not easy to retain experiential empathy. A fat wad of money in the pocket now has a way of dimming memories of past deprivations. [Photo credit: People wait in line to receive free milk in New York City.]

[More posts daily at the Detroit News.]

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