The United States is the most unequal of the advanced countries. By far. And it’s getting worse. The ratio of the average income of the richest 10 percent to the poorest 10 percent in the U.S. is 18.5 whereas for most Western countries it’s closer to ten. (Canada’s is 9.4.) Unequal countries are unhealthy countries. This is illustrated by such social yardsticks as violent crime, drug abuse, obesity, mental problems, etc. and indeed the U.S. has by far the highest rates of these ills. One result is a dangerously divided electorate, riddled with conspiracy theories and hostility.
As grim as all this is, and as grim as the political fallout is, the future has suddenly brightened. I refer of course to the election of Joe Biden and specifically to his $1.9 trillion Covid relief package. The package includes $1,400 payments to most Americans, an extension of jobless benefits, aid to state and local governments, and a child tax credit. Biden claims the package will rebuild “the backbone of this country.”
Democrats are now pushing to make key elements of the package permanent. This could radically change America. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says making the child tax credit permanent would lift over half the nation’s poor children out of poverty. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says, “We can change America, if we make them permanent.”
The stimulus package has wide bipartisan support among the public, but among Republicans in Congress, not so much. Not a single Republican representative or senator voted for the bill. They will no doubt also oppose attempts by the Democrats to make the anti-poverty measures permanent. And they have powerful political advantages: grossly unequal representation in the Senate, a gerrymandered House of Representatives, a stacked Supreme Court and voter suppression.
Nonetheless, the Democrats are determined. Unlike Obama’s bailout after the 2008 recession, which he seriously undersold, Biden and the Democrats intend to vigorously promote this legislation. Biden will be out on tour promoting the package, and the Democrats intend to leverage public support in the 2022 elections.
If they are successful, inequality could be significantly reduced, and America could indeed be changed. The degree of success will determine the nation’s chances of becoming a healthier society and a more politically rational place.