Carol Shea-Porter - We Can Save the Middle Class

When I ran for Congress in 2006, I told people I was running “for the rest of us, the bottom 99 percent.” I said the middle class was stumbling and the poor had fallen, and we needed to address wealth inequality and our unfair tax structure if we were going to have a robust middle class. Some thought this was “class warfare,” although I always said I wanted businesses, corporations and individuals to do well, and I hoped to have more money myself. I just wanted everyone to pay their fair share – not a penny more – but their fair share. I was worried about the lack of revenue collected from those who legally dodged paying their fair share, and the unfair tax burden on the middle class who didn’t have lobbyists and accountants to “protect” their income, so they had to pick up the bill.

Five years have passed since then. We lived through the Wall Street meltdown, and we managed to escape another depression, but the recession has been deep and long. America lost 8 million jobs during this time. Although there has been job growth for the past 20 months, it’s still weak and too many are unemployed or underemployed. All this misery has led more people to discuss the issue of wealth and fairness in this country, and it’s been an eye opener for them. They have learned of executive pay in the millions. They heard the CNN Money report that two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid zero federal income tax. They know taxes are much lower on the rich than they were in the prosperous 1950s under President Dwight Eisenhower or in the prosperous 1990s under President Bill Clinton.

USA Today’s recent article, “The Fading Middle Class,” said in 2010, the top 20 percent of households in America received 50.3 percent of the income. It quoted Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center: “The lower share of income is a way of saying income inequality is growing in the middle …The vast middle class has less of the pie than it had before.”

That is obvious to most people. Actually though, the picture is worse.

Marketplace economics correspondent Chris Farrell sums it up nicely:

“Well the problem is two-fold. One is the rich keep getting richer, and you know, the top 1 percent – the top 1 percent measured by income, they captured slightly more than half of overall economic growth from the period of 1993 to 2008. So it feeds the sense that this economy is increasingly unfair. But the real point is about equality of opportunity. As the rich get richer, there’s less opportunity for those who don’t belong to that class.”

That is the larger problem. If there is less opportunity, America starts to look like other countries

Instead of the land of opportunity and possibility. While everyone uses their own words to talk about the American dream, we know it’s about opportunity. Americans always looked with hope and optimism to the future, knowing that working hard opened up doors. Now, they doubt their children will have the chance to prosper.

We can change this, and we should. Fix the tax code. U.S. corporations need to pay their taxes. Enforce collection. Fairly tax the very wealthy, and take away subsidies. Stop allowing the special interests to write the tax code that allows the super rich and influential to avoid taxes.

Here is what Sen. Tom Coburn, a very conservative Oklahoma Republican, wrote in his newly released report, “ Subsidies of the Rich and Famous.”

“From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Multi-millionaires are even receiving government checks for not working. This welfare for the well-off – costing billions of dollars a year – is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate, many who are working two jobs just to make ends meet, and IOUs to be paid off by future generations.”

Invest in education. Invest in infrastructure and create jobs. Stop unfair trade agreements that ship our jobs overseas. Create more incentives to manufacture in America. There are a number of ways we can right the ship, and we must do them all fast. We owe that to our children.

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Former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s 1st District from 2007-11. She is seeking a third term in the November 2012 election. She wrote the proposal for and established a nonprofit social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.