Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Great Recession, marketing to women, and economic realities

Three things crossed my virtual desk today that are all related – in spite of what their authors might tell you.  First came a piece in Salon about the numbers of people living in or near government poverty levels;  then a WaPo story analyzing where the economic impacts of tax expenditures (i.e. tax breaks) are concentrated in terms of wage earners;  and finally an unusually cogent column for right of center Jennifer Rubin about how the Republican Party is missing out on woman’s issues in a major way.  To Quote Rubin:

The message that too many women heard from the GOP (and that Democrats exploited) was negative – finger-wagging at contraception and demeaning women in the military (as Rick Santorum did), commenting in outlandish ways about rape and decrying gay marriage. For those women not already in sync with Republicans, it came across as harsh, off-putting and mean spirited. They concluded that the GOP had nothing for them and, if they were single mothers, that Republicans didn’t really approve of them.

The message that focused on entrepreneurs, tax cuts and repealing Obamacare was not that attractive either. Most women don’t own or start businesses. If women were bewildered by Obamacare, they didn’t hear anything meaningful from Republicans about what they could do to reduce health-care costs (of which they, in many cases, were the primary purchaser) or protect them if they changed or lost their job. Considering how rotten the message and the tone, it’s remarkable that Romney won as many single women (31 percent) as he did.

Rubin then goes on to show how many economic issues – which, as the people who are now 40% of the heads of household women tend to pay attention to - Republicans COULD provide leadership on. 

Put it this way: The image of the fiery, ferocious conservative warrior that the right-wing media applauds is precisely the type that turns off women voters who aren’t already die-hard Republicans.

But it’s the substance that matters most of all. Here Republicans would do well to redirect much of their energy aware from a presently insoluble stand-off on taxes and the budget. There is no grand deal in sight, so why belabor the point?

Sounds great right?  There are some Conservative economic policies even I’d get behind, and lest we forget, most of what’s in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is policy proscriptions lifted from publications of the Heritage Foundation – not Think Progress.  Yet, to many of these women, the Republican Party is still a Party of cronyism, designed to aggrandize and protect benefits to those at the top of the economic ladder.

What sort of benefits?  Consider (From the Post’s Tax breaks analysis):

The 10 largest breaks in the U.S. tax code will save taxpayers more than $900 billion this year, with a little more than half the benefits flowing to the richest 20 percent of households, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday.

And the richest 1 percent of households, those with at least $327,000 in annual income, get an especially big haul — about 17 percent of the total savings, according to the report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Stop and think about that for a second.  Ten things in the supposedly 6 foot tall tax code keep $900 Billion in the pockets of Americans that could (at least in theory) have gone to the federal government to fund all sorts of things.  Just doing away with the preferential rates for capital gains (which is where most hedge fund managers hide their incomes) gives you 4 times as much money as the Sequester will take out of federal budgets by 30 September.

According to the CBO, the biggest tax breaks by dollar value this fiscal year are the tax-free treatment of employer-provided health insurance (about $260 billion), preferential rates for dividends and capital gains ($160 billion) and tax-free contributions to retirement savings ($140 billion). Deductions for state and local taxes ($80 billion), mortgage interest ($70 billion) and contributions to charity ($40 billion) are also among the top 10, as is the tax-free treatment of capital gains on assets transferred at death ($50 billion).

All of those breaks primarily benefit wealthy households, according to the CBO. Rounding out the top 10 are three breaks that primarily benefit lower-income households: the tax-free treatment of most Social Security benefits ($35 billion), the child tax credit ($60 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($60 billion).

Even if you back out the three bottom tier breaks that mostly impact low income wage earners, you are still left with $ 660 Billion.  

How does that stack up?  The current Congressional Budget Office estimate of the FY 2013 deficit is $642 Billion.  You read that right – the top seven tax breaks give back to Americans more money than we need to erase this year’s deficit.  Half of that amount - $330 Billion – go to the top 20% of wage earning households in the US.  And consider that the infamous 1% get $112.2 Billion of those 7 items (which is only slightly more than the total that the Justice Department will spend this year).   
Republicans have been hard at work the last several election cycles to keep these tax breaks – and the historically low rates that go with them – in place no matter what.  Those actions, which can’t be hidden no matter how hard Republicans spin it, are at the heart of why women don’t want to vote for Republicans.  In addition, they are why a whole lot of other Americans don’t want to vote for Republicans, since the outcomes of preserving this structure is a huge increase in people with significantly declining (or never rising) economic status.

Put another way, if you have advocated for policies that support these breaks, you have preserved an economic system that:

  • Leaves ½ of American with NO net assets
  • Drove UP the decline in wage income in the US (which has been going down for approximately 30 years)
  • Created a median income in the U.S. of $34,000 (which is $4000) above the federal poverty standard for a family of 4
  • Gave the top 20 wage earners in the US the same amount of income it takes to deliver the entire federal food assistance program (SNAP)

Harsh, I know, but this is where our country is.  This is what Republicans have fought to protect – and this is what Democrats ARE NOW JOINING IN TO KEEP ALIVE.

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