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Thom Hartmann's Frontline Dispatches From The War On The Middle Class

By       Message By Randolph T. Holhut     Permalink
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DUMMERSTON, Vt. - The conventional political wisdom says that in this election year, the war in Iraq has overshadowed everything.

But there is another equally important issue, the plight of the middle class in America. Quite simply, working families are hurting.

Few have the guts to talk about the class war being waged against working Americans, because class remains a taboo subject in America. Thankfully, author and Air America talk radio host Thom Hartmann has the guts to tell Americans what is happening and what can be done about it.

In his new book, "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class," Hartmann makes a compelling case for what the average person in America is up against.

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Regular visitors to the liberal blogosphere are familiar with Hartmann and his views on democracy and economic issues. The ground he covers in his book is familiar. What makes "Screwed" valuable is how it ties everything together into one convenient package.

It provides plenty of fodder for shutting up your dittohead neighbor when he starts talking about all the wonderful things the Republicans have done to working Americans, such as these amazing fun facts:

- The inflation-adjusted average annual pay for CEOs went up from $7,773,000 in 2002 to $9,600,000 in 2004. Meanwhile, inflation- adjusted median annual household income went down from $46,058 in 2000 to $44,389 in 2004.

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- From 2001 to 2005, the United States lost 2,818,000 manufacturing jobs.

- Two decades ago, 91 percent of all employers offered traditional pensions. Today, only 67 percent do.

- Only 60 percent of employers offer health insurance, and those who have health insurance are today paying 36 percent more for out-of-pocket costs than they did five years ago.

- More than 60 percent of mothers with children under the age of 6 are in the workforce.

- Thirty million Americans - one in four workers - make less than $9 an hour or $17,280 a year. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $19,307. If the head of that family worked for the current federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, or $9,888 a year, he or she would have to work two, 40-hour week jobs to stay above the poverty level.

While workers are struggling, a privileged few are doing great. According to the Census Bureau, there are now 7.4 million Americans who are millionaires and, over the past decade, the number of billionaires has more than tripled to 341. The richest 20 percent of Americans today control 50.4 percent of the wealth. Back in 1980, it was 33 percent.

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How did this happen?

It was a deliberate policy decision, says Hartmann. Since the conservative wing of the Republican Party rose to power with the election of Ronald Reagan, the rules have been rewritten to favor corporations and CEOs over workers.

President Reagan embraced the now-discredited theory of trickle-down economics, which said that if you cut taxes on the wealthy, it will stimulate economic growth and some money will eventually find its way into workers' pockets. What happened was that a huge portion of the nation's wealth was transferred to the wealthy and the middle class has been squeezed almost to oblivion.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

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