Polls show the majority of Americans support the many Occupy movements taking place throughout the nation and the percentage is increasing. There are still those who can’t get past the freak show aspect of what appears on their TV screens but the majority of those marching are serious people concerned about serious issues. So, why are they occupying?
A major reason is the tremendous and growing influence the super wealthy and large corporations have in both the economic and political systems. The politicians and bankers simply have turned a deaf ear to the shrinking and troubled middle-class in America. The occupiers refer to themselves as the 99 percenters and the rich as the 1 percenters. While those numbers may not be totally accurate they do represent a symbolic sentiment. There is an all too genuine feeling in America that the system is increasingly structured against the needs of the common person.
I’ve encountered at least two bits of information that help illustrate the frustration and anger of many. One is the amount of money owed by America’s young college students and graduates. Student loan debt exceeds credit card debt and now amounts to over $1 trillion. Student debt is so great and good jobs so few a huge number of our youth are forced to move back in with their parents. Unlike other forms of debt, student loan debt cannot be defaulted on. It stays with you forever and failure to make payments can forever wreck a person’s credit standing.
Secondly is the Congressional Budget Office’s recent report stating that income among the wealthiest 1% increased between the years 1979 – 2007 a whopping 275% while the bottom 20% of earners only saw a very modest 18% increase in income. Give a little time to the included chart and you can see why the occupiers see themselves as the ignored or forgotten 99%.
If all the figures leave you dizzy I’ll sum it up for you, the super rich are getting even more super rich while the rest of us have either drowned or are worrying about keeping our nostrils above water.
Not seen enough numbers? Well, consider this, for generations we have talked about the American dream. Throughout my life the belief has been that if you work hard, get an education, play by the rules, take a few risks you’ll attain a pretty good income and the lifestyle that comes with it. If you look at the distribution and growth of wealth in America between the end of WWII and the mid 1980s the data indicates that the wealth of working class Americans was keeping pace with that of the super rich. But beginning in the middle of the Reagan era things suddenly and dramatically changed. Out of nowhere the line separating the middle-class changed. The percentage of wealth going to the super rich shot up while the lower and middle class’ portions remained the same or declined.
The reason for this is simple policy change. Beginning in the Reagan era American tax policy shifted to the advantage of the very wealthy. And, under every president since these policies have expanded and the gap between the rich and the middle-class has continued to widen. Simply put, the result has been the impending death of the American dream. The average American in 2011 can no longer count on upward mobility, either socially or economically. And they can no longer preach to their children that education, hard work, and honesty will bring them a better life than their parents and grandparents had.
These are the hard realities we all must recognize and somehow deal with today. These are also the harsh truths that so many are taking to the streets about because it is the only way they feel their voices will be heard. I dare to say that most of you reading this essay have a dog in the fight that is taking place in the streets of our nation. Now all you have to do is look beyond the freaks with purple hair and a ring in their nose and pay attention to the real issues and those who are seriously concerned about themselves and their country. And, those are not whines you hear, they are serious screams of serious frustration and huge disappointment.