Since President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 for the first national celebration, Thanksgiving has increasingly become a time for families and friends to gather together and to collectively express gratitude for the friendships that they enjoy and the bounties that they have received. This year's civic celebration presents a challenge to our collective sense of what we owe to one another and raises an important question: whether the blessings that many of us enjoy should be more evenly distributed along with the burdens that weigh down upon so many of our neighbors and fellow citizens?
The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals an increasing gap between rich had poor not seen since the time of the Great Depression, as the number of Americans included in the ranks of poorest poor has reached a record high - 20.5 million citizens. These poorest of the poor - 1 in 15 people out of a current estimated population of 312 million -are dispersed widely throughout metropolitan areas after the collapse of the US housing bubble which had lured many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and reduced jobs and income. Previously, the bureau reported that, as of 2010, 46.2 million people Americans by lived in poverty. That number represents 16 per cent of Americans.
At the same time the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, as of October,13.9 million Americans remained unemployed and that the unemployment rates among blacks - 15.1 percent - and teenagers- 24.1 percent were among the largest affected groups, while 5.9 million of the total had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. In addition to the 13.9 million Americans who were reported to be unemployed but actively seeking full time employment, the number of involuntary part-time workers - individuals who were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time employment - totaled 8.9 million people as of October.
The bureau also reported that 2.6 million persons were classified as marginally attached to the labor - defined as individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. Hence, the total of adult Americans, excluding their spouses and their children, who have been personally affected by the depressed demand for labor in this continuing Great Recession exceeds 22.4 million adults and adolescents over sixteen years of age.
Sadly, despite these grim statistics, there is little evidence to show that the business or political elite who control the levers of power in this country have any desire or intention to address the ever-increasing disparities of wealth and the declining social mobility between the wealthiest 1% and the remainder of the population. For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce has reported that U.S. based multinational corporations alone added 2.9 million workers overseas between 1999 and 2009, while they simultaneously reduced their domestic work force by 864,000 workers. Although this trend toward out-sourcing has undoubtedly continued to accelerate since 2009, the figures also do not include the dependence of these multinational corporations upon "unaffiliated" companies upon which they increasingly depend for their products.
As a reward for their continuing failure to contribute to this country's economic well-being, Republican Congressional leaders and the GOP presidential candidates propose that, to create further illusive jobs, these multinational corporations be permitted to repatriate to the United States some 15 billion dollars in overseas excess profits that they have accumulated at drastically reduced tax rates, notwithstanding the data that has shown that, in the previous repatriations granted during the second Bush administrations, the billions of dollars repatriated were invested in zero job creation. Rather, those excess profits were re-distributed as stock-dividends to shareholders and as bonuses to already excessively compensated executives.
A further example of moral and economic of myopia of this country's current elite is provided by the most recent proposal by Newt Gingrich who now advocates, along with Congressman Paul Ryan, that an employee-funded component be added to the existing Social Security system that could be invested in a personal account. Employees would be given the option of putting money into a range of investments administered by private companies, similar to a 401(k) plan and these accounts could be passed on to an estate when the person dies. In the event, however, that the employee-invested accounts should not perform as well existing traditional social security accounts, whether because of financial mismanagement or the stock market volatility, the tax payers of the Untied States, through the department of the Treasury would be called guarantee the losses.
This Thanksgiving provides us with a opportunity to reflect, personally and collectively, upon the needs of the many versus the needs of the few. The needs of the few, if they are allowed to continue to accumulate ever-increasing wealth and power, will only fuel public discord and will ultimately unravel our political and economic system. By contrast, a commitment to distribute our blessings and our burdens more equitably among all citizens may enable our children and grandchildren to live in a country in which the promotion of social justice becomes the summum bonum.
This, then, is the choice each of us as citizens must now make. Ignoring the choice will only enable others to decide for us.