Wage gap becoming major problem

Hell has frozen over. It became official the day Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner admitted that income inequality in America was a serious problem.

They also declared this new Congress would not act as stooges for Wall Street. I’ll believe the latter when I see the evidence. But their recognition of the income inequality problem reflects a major shift in the Republican Party. In my 64 years, Republicans have consistently and adamantly denied such a problem existed and declared anyone who suggested otherwise was guilty of fomenting class warfare.

The gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us is wider today than it has been since 1928.

The gap then was a factor in the Great Depression. The issue is important because the result has been a declining middle class, and no democracy can survive without a strong middle class.

No great economy can sustain its economic growth without a strong middle class. No economy based on consumer spending, such as ours, can thrive without a middle class with sufficient disposable income.

It is a problem when a tiny group can purchase auto elevators for their car collection in La Jolla while shielding millions from the IRS in Caribbean banks (Mitt Romney), while the rest of us worry that we are upside down on the mortgage, that we can’t afford to put our kids through college, or that we are one medical bill away from bankruptcy.

We are approaching a Mexican state of affairs. Mexico is not an impoverished third-world nation. It is quite wealthy, but almost all the wealth is in the hands of a few, while much of the nation is in abject poverty.

The factors that have amplified the income inequality issue are many and sometimes bipartisan.

The chief culprit has been trickle-down economics. We’ve tried it for the past 35 years, and it has only made the wealthiest richer while the rest of us have had a serious decline in real income.

A lesser factor, but one nonetheless, is the fact that the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation since 1968. An increase in the federal minimum wage would help, but only marginally.

A more detrimental factor has been the demonization and demolition of labor unions. It is not coincidental that the middle class in America grew and became financially stronger when unions were on the ascension, and the middle class has shrunk and lost wealth since unions have been on the decline.

Right to work laws are no friends of the middle class.

Globalization has played a part.

I mentioned trickle-down economics. It is but a part of a greater problem that has affected the income gap. That problem is a Washington that is often little more than a lobbyist bootlicker.

Michael Adkins formerly was chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.