Breaking the Class Ceiling

lifting the Class Ceiling must be our first target.

The wealth and income gap. As Sen. Sanders notes, since 1985, the share of wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent in the U.S. has plummeted from 36 percent to 23 percent, a loss that equates to over $10 trillion, nearly all of it going to a tiny sliver of the wealthiest. Over the last 30 years, the top one-tenth of one percent have seen its share of our nation’s wealth more than double from 10 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile real median family income is almost $5,000 less than in 1999. Wages have flat lined for many workers; since 1973, worker productivity has climbed 72 percent but hourly compensation increased just 9 percent.

Poverty. Today, 46.7 million Americans live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. The U.S. has far greater childhood poverty than any major industrialized country. Nearly 50 million Americans live in food insecurity households. Some 11 million tenants spend half their income on rent and as many as 39 percent of households have housing insecurity.

Health care. Even with gains made under the Affordable Care Act, 33 million Americans remain without health coverage. Last year, 35 million Americans could not get their prescriptions filled because they could not afford it. A Commonwealth Fund study documented that the U.S. ranks last among 11 developed countries on the quality of our health system, including shorter life spans than comparable countries.

Education. Students who live in wealthier communities had lower-student teacher ratios, more up to date computer and science equipment, better libraries, more current textbooks, and more guidance counselors. A result, affluent students have higher high school graduation rates, higher test scores, and more job opportunities when out of school. College student debt totals more than $1.2 trillion leaving many in debt for much of their life.

Racial disparities. African-Americans and Latinos have higher rates of unemployment, infant mortality, chronic illnesses, shorter lifespans, and are far more likely to be turned down for home loans than whites. African-Americans and Latinos, one-fourth of the population, comprise 58 percent of those incarcerated, and the loss of life of unarmed African-Americans in police shootings and while in custody has become a national scandal.

Women’s equality. The gender gap bridges the economic and social landscape. Women earn less than men, and female-headed households experience a poverty rate 6.9 percentage points higher than men. The U.S. is among the very few industrialized countries that fails to offer paid maternity leave, spends far less on child care, and provides less sick time or flexible work schedules which affect women in greater numbers.

Pollution and climate change. Due in part to where power plants and refineries are placed, environmental pollution has more exposure in low-income communities and among people of color. One study found people of color breathe air with 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide, one reason for a growing asthma epidemic. The climate crisis in the form of droughts, which cut crop yields and add to hunger, and extreme weather events also have a more deadly impact on low income communities in the U.S. and globally.

A “break the class ceiling” agenda like Bernie Sanders includes boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour, pay equity for women, a $1 trillion jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure that would create millions of jobs, sweeping criminal justice reform, expanding Medicare to cover everyone, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and robust action on climate change. Needed revenue would come by putting people to work, improving health outcomes, making the wealthy pay their fair share, and taxing Wall Street speculation.

For our children and our future, there’s no time to waste.  This piece is by RoseAnn DeMoro is executive director of the 185,000-member National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association of nurses.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License/