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The Bourgeois Congress and Economic Violence

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If the greatness of a nation is measured by how it treats its poor rather than its military expenditure, America must rank near the bottom of the heap. The disparity between rich and poor has never been greater and it is widening at an accelerating pace.

Some pertinent statistics vividly tell the story:

Of the world's 100 largest economic entities, 51 are corporations and 49 are nations.

The world's top 200 corporations account for over a quarter of the economic activity on the globe while employing less than 1% of its workforce.

The assets of the world's 358 billionaires exceed the combined annual incomes of countries with 45% of the world's people.

The richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the nation's household wealth.
The average CEO in the U.S. made 42 times the average worker's pay in 1980, 85 times in 1990 and 531 times in 2000.

The corporate share of taxes paid has fallen from 33% in the 1940's to 15% in the 1990's. Individuals' share of taxes has risen from 44 to 73%.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) effectively gives veto power to corporations over our U.S. environmental and labor laws.


The first minimum wage was established in 1938. On September 1, 1996 the current $5.15/hr. minimum wage was signed into law. There has been no increase in the minimum wage in over nine years. During that same period of time Congress voted itself eight pay raises.

Even the paltry minimum wage of $5.15 does not possess its original purchasing power, as the cost of living has continued to rise. Thus, the minimum wage, a national disgrace, has its lowest purchasing power in 51 years.

The blatant exploitation of the working poor is occurring against the backdrop of a Congress that is doling out massive welfare to the world's largest and wealthiest corporations and providing tax cuts for the richest Americans, even as worker pensions vanish after a lifetime of service. But it gets worse.

A worker who earns the minimum wage of $5.15/hr. during the course of a year earns just $10,700. That is $6,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of three at $16,600. Sixty-one percent of minimum wage earners are women, many of them single.

According to Rick Wilson, director of American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Department, the base pay for a congressperson is $168,500 per year. A single mother earning the minimum wage would have to work 15.7 years at 40 hours per week to earn the congressperson's minimum.

Even that measure is misleading. The disparity is far greater than the dire statistics indicate. There are 435 members in the House of Representatives of which 123 had at least one million dollar incomes. In 2002, 43% of freshmen congresspersons had incomes of a million dollars or more and the number is growing with each election cycle. As Congress continues to resemble the nation's economic elite rather than the demographics of their respective districts, the poor increasingly find themselves among the disenfranchised.

In the wealthiest nation on earth one in five children lives in deep poverty. It this is not class warfare, I do not know what is

As the working poor sink deeper into the oblivion of the swirling vortex of social and economic despair, ever more wealth is concentrated among society's upper crust. What is Congress doing about it? They have wasted weeks discussing how to abolish the estate tax, a levy that benefits less than 0.3 percent of the population-the very wealthiest Americans.

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Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.
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