Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The rich get richer (and ever whiter)

From an Associated Press article by Hope Yen (July 26th):
The wealth gaps between whites and minorities have grown to their widest levels since the U.S began tracking more than 25 years ago. The recession and uneven recovery have erased decades of minority gains, leaving whites on average with 20 times the net worth of blacks and 18 times that of Hispanics, according to an analysis of new Census data...
The median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, according to the analysis released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Those ratios, roughly 20 to 1 for blacks and 18 to 1 for Hispanics, far exceed the low mark of 7 to 1 for both groups reached in 1995, when the nation's economic expansion lifted many low-income groups to the middle class...
Other findings include:
  • About 35 percent of black households and 31 percent of Hispanic households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15 percent of white households. In 2005, the comparable shares were 29 percent for blacks, 23 percent for Hispanics and 11 percent for whites...
  • Across all race and ethnic groups, the wealth gap between rich and poor widened. The share of wealth held by the top 10 percent of U.S. households increased from 49 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2009. The threshold for entry into the wealthiest top 10 percent, however, dipped lower: from $646,327 in 2005 to $598,435.
Strangely, the story fails to mention the effects of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest, which clearly benefited white elites more than any other group. The expiration of that tax cut, or an unlikely budget deal that accelerates that date, would be a small step towards reversing a trend that is revealed in the following chart.

The class disparities in wealth distribution are even greater than the glaring ethnic differences. The lower four quintiles (bottom 80%) of the U.S. population control only 7% of the nation's financial wealth. The top 1% controls 43%.  This is easily the greatest concentration of wealth in an economic elite since the 1920's. That elite, of course, is almost exclusively white.  While desperate negotiations and posturing continue over the debt ceiling crisis, neither party is proposing any steps to seriously address it.

This indifference is not surprising: as of 2010, 245 of the 535 members of Congress were millionaires. That’s 46% percent, compared to about 1 percent of Americans overall.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dog Mtn trail - Columbia River Gorge, Oregon/Washington

A grueling trail (6.6 miles / 11 km, about 3,000 vertical ft. / 950 m.), but hikers are abundantly rewarded for their effort.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bridge / No Bridge

This is approved design for the Columbia  River Crossing, the replacement for the Interstate Bridge that now connects Interstate 5 from  Oregon to Washington.  It really doesn't qualify as a bridge:  it's simply the place where the freeway crosses the river. The sole criterion for the decision was the $3.6 billion price tag, even though there were far better alternatives that didn't cost much more.

It will be a suitable monument to a culture that aspires to nothing -- the product of a political process that "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."  [Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, 1893]

While mediocrity rules and infrastructure decays at home, the U.S. will spend $4.4 trillion on post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. The noneconomic human cost -- including such "externalities" as 225,000 deaths, nearly 8 million refugees and generalized misery -- is incalculable. The cost of a lost opportunity, such as an iconic bridge on the Columbia, hardly deserves mention in this context, but it will exact its own toll over time.