99 Percenters are literally sick of being left out

TheStar.com – business
Published On Wed Oct 05 2011.   By David Olive, Business Columnist

”Poor people gonna rise up / Get their share / People gonna rise up / And take what’s theirs / Finally the tables are starting to turn.” –Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ ‘bout A Revolution” (1988)

The social protest launched so recently as Occupy Wall Street that soon evolved into the “We Are the 99 Percent” movement is not a repudiation of capitalism. The aggrieved 99 Percenters, already with chapters in more than 160 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, including Toronto and seven other Canadian cities, simply want the system to work for everyone.

They are literally sick of being left out.

“My girlfriend got cancer at 22,” reads one of the hundreds of postings at the websitewearethe99percent.tumblr.com, where there are photos of everyday people describing their difficulties in succinct, handwritten notes.

“She spent everything she had and worked two jobs, 80-90 hours a week to pay for chemotherapy. She kept working even during the treatment. We still live paycheck to paycheck one year later.”

Considerably fewer than 99 per cent of people in the advanced economies are in distress. “But even if the 99 per cent are more like the 60 per cent, or the 50 per cent, or even the 40 per cent, their name is apt,” says Felix Salmon, the global economics analyst at Reuters.

The 99 per cent, says Salmon, “sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy – work hard, play by the rules, get ahead – has been broken, and they want to see it restored.”

At least for now, this is neither about class warfare nor higher taxes on the super-affluent. It is about the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us, about middle-class incomes that have stagnated for three decades. As Barack Obama recently said: “It’s not class warfare, it’s math.”

Among the 99 Percenters feeling most acutely cheated are jobless college graduates burdened by huge student debts. These include the 20-something laid-off printer on the 99 Percent website carrying $87,000 in student-loan obligations.

‘’I graduated college with no debt and a minimum-wage job. Yet I was plenty worried about my future prospects.”

The 99 Percenters include a breadwinner who works more than 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and is seldom able to see his kids. His family spends more than $12,000 (U.S.) a year on health-insurance premiums.

You can blame that on Republicans and conservative Democrats on Capitol Hill who rejected out of hand the universal single-payer “public option” component of Obamacare.

But it has been chronically unemployed university graduates who have spearheaded the “Arab Spring.” And their counterparts elsewhere might similarly be potent agents of change.

“College debt represents a special sort of betrayal,” writes public-policy savant Ezra Klein at the Washington Post. “We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt. You were lied to.”

And who are the 1 per cent?

They are the top 1 per cent of Americans who have 40 per cent of the nation’s wealth and pocket 24 per cent of its income.

They include the incompetents who brought us Enron, Nortel, the BP oil spill that fouled the U.S. Gulf states coast, and the Wall Street meltdown that triggered the Great Recession.

They include Jon Stewart’s boss at Viacom Inc., Philippe Dauman, America’s highest-paid CEO. Barely a year on the job, Dauman was paid $84.5 million in 2010.

They are the captains of industry who promised us “pay for performance” to justify a new era of staggering payouts from stock options – “a reward for breathing,” as Warren Buffett complains.

But instead, they gave us “pay for failure.” The fired CEOs of Home Depot Inc., Pfizer Inc., Merrill Lynch Inc. and Citigroup Inc. each walked away with severance of $40 million to $200 million.

The send-off for the 8.4 million North Americans laid off in the recession was a few weeks’ pay and accumulated pension earnings. That’s assuming their employers were not among those that have scrapped defined-benefit pensions as a cost-cutting measure.

The 1 per cent also include insular politicians and those prominent in the news media. With their six- and seven-figure incomes, they simply don’t relate to the parents of the roughly one million Canadian children living in poverty.

It is remarkable the suffering that people will put up with. From the Romanovs to Hosni Mubarak, the change was a long time coming.

But then it came. As I’ve said before in this space, we can act on the warning of these progressive demonstrators. Or we can respond with riot police. But a change is gonna come.

< http://www.thestar.com/article/1065057–olive-99-percenters-are-literally-sick-of-being-left-out >

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