Tag Archives: 47 percent

The year that class apparently stopped mattering

TW: classism, racism, nativism

2012 was a fascinating year, especially from a perspective within the United States. There’s a long history of residents of this country telling ourselves that we’re a classless society, or failing that a country where opportunity is ubiquitous and untainted by social and political biases. Last year, and particularly the presidential election over the course of it, seemed like something of an abrupt end to that, with Romney’s 47 percent video solidifying class as inevitably one of the salient identities and the post-election analysis often becoming fixed on how rapidly support for the Democrat Obama transformed into support for the Republican Romney at around $50,000 per year per household in most states.

romney in a pile of money

(It was also a golden age of photoshopped images of Mitt Romney, for obvious reasons, from here.)

This past year something else happened, however, particularly in how the media analyzed issues. In short, class completely disappeared from the conversation. In some cases, the absence of class in how representative sets of groups were selected was appalling obvious, with Ron Fournier’s perceived look into the heads of current students he expects to lead the country in the future being a particularly vivid example. That the class of those he talked to (never even directly about the issue, it seems important to add) was a force that could bias them to a certain view on government was something Fournier never broached in his article. While he could obliquely reference their class status as easing their launch into “public service”, he couldn’t imagine it as something that shaped their opinions, their experiences, and ultimately their politics. It’s not that the economic system is invisible, just people’s status (that is, class) that apparently was to his eyes and ears. Likewise, the result was that the differing positions held by poorer young people weren’t considered.

Fournier was just an undeniable example of this phenomenon. Earlier in the year, in fact, Obama’s State of the Union address reflected a similar disrecognition of how his language divided immigrants into those that worked desired jobs and hence were imagined to be “highly-skilled” and even “entrepreneurs” and those that, ostensibly, are neither of those things as a result of them being unwanted. The reality that many undocumented immigrants are badly wanted as laborers by US-based businesses, but precisely because they can be exploited economically and socially, wasn’t acknowledged in the slightest. Much like the high school students with less affluent backgrounds, their reality (and hence, their political interests and needs) were outside of the discussion.

This failure to consider how class intersects with nearly all political issues didn’t merely erase poor people from the discussion, but actively distorted a number of historical figures records while they were remembered this year. From Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr, the class politics of a number of Black political figures were totally removed from public political memory, often as a part of otherwise remaking them into figures useful to White commentators. The former was done an additional disservice before his death, by BBC reporting that disregarded the economic reality of historical and modern South Africa, largely again by means of erasing the poorest residents of that country (who remain the indigenous Black communities) in order to make a political point that seemed stolen from White nationalists.

In a lot of formal and official discussions, 2013 was a year of class needlessly receding from the discussion, which often took any type of look at the beliefs, ideas, and even existence of the poorest people with it.

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Romney has been one of the neediest of the 47%

TW: vilification of lower income people, corporate welfare

A few days ago, Rachel Maddow excellently pointed out that Republican presidential candidate Romney’s private statements about the 47 percent of US citizens who pay no income taxes were not only a tactical blunder, but were also patently hypocritical, as he hasn’t paid much if anything in income taxes. Maddow predicted that this scandal would pull national discussion back towards his secret tax returns and his history of lying about what earlier returns have said. While she’s been proven right that this has resurrected past attacks on Romney, it’s been ones slightly different from discussions of his returns. For instance, I’ve seen this image start circulating around Facebook in the past days, since Romney’s misstatements were verified as true:

(Originally from here, typos and all.)

Not only does Romney belong the group he maligned, but he’s received an astoundingly larger amount of financial support than the average member of that group.

Of course, this has already elicited a few complaints that the facts here are being misrepresented. I’ve already seen one Facebook comment complaining that this was a falsehood invented and promoted by Vice President Joe Biden, naturally with no evidence provided. The most substantial investigation of the $10 million bailout that I could locate was penned by the previously mentioned Glenn Kessler. In the style of Tom Raum and Calvin Woodward, he complained about the Obama campaign’s explanation of this event on several notes. He argued their video failed to explain that Romney was not at fault for the losses (which they didn’t say anything about), that there was a bailout of Bain and Company not Bain Capital as “implied” (when the sentence before the one he quoted specified that), that Romney minimized the size of the bailout as much as possible (when this is irrelevant), and that the government funds weren’t taken from tax payers (when that also wasn’t stated, only that they were federal funds). So even some one quite sympathetic to the Romney camp couldn’t exactly spin this one.

Bringing us back to the earlier discussion about the dependency of businesses on the government but in a context of economic redistribution actually only strengthens the argument that Romney is hypocritical. The funds for the Bain and Company bailout were in part provided by fees placed on all banks and other financiers (as a fee for federal protection of their funds). If viewed as a tax (like income taxes), Bain and Company under Romney had a negative effective tax rate – essentially what he chided 47 percent of the United States for allegedly having.

To head off any claims about the assistance in the form of welfare or financial aid for students, I’ve looked into those figures as well. Pell Grants’ limits are well known, and at a maximum of $5550 per semester (which is being threatened with being reduced), that works out to roughly 1802 semesters. Welfare is a bit trickier to answer, since it’s more of a collection of programs. The largest is the federal program for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) which has an assortment of state-based counterparts. According to their own records, in 2006 they together sent out about $9.9 billion in benefits (table TANF 4) to almost 2 million families (table TANF 3), which works out to about $5048.92 per family for the year, which alone would need to be doled out for almost two thousand years to equal the bailout to Bain and Company.

Adding in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the second largest program typically labeled as “welfare”, that only adds a maximum of $668 (page 9) to the monthly benefits for a given household, which is still inadequate to reach $10 million in some three hundred years, as quoted by Think Progress. Clearly, they must have combined smaller additional assistance programs’ maximum benefits into their total, ultimately reaching the figure of 328 years. Most of those programs specialize in helping specific subgroups of lower income people, like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which requires recipients to be pregnant women, nursing women, or women with children under the age of five, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which is reserved for the physically disabled and elderly.

Part of this is, of course, illusory – not only are there new restrictions on how long a household can receive financial assistance, but many programs have strictly enforced stipulations on how the funds can be spent (WIC in particular is known for state-specific “restrictions on the types of foods (brands, package sizes etc) that can be purchased” that often seem arbitrary). Effectively, there’s no way for the average family to ever receive the amount of government assistance that Romney received in the 1990s while at Bain and Company. Hopefully that will return as a topic of national discussion given Romney’s clear contempt for poor people with effectively negative tax rates.

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