THE gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the nation has widened after the recession, highlighting the worsening income inequality in the United States, a new survey has found, as over 450 were arrested during sit-in protests by fast food workers in 150 US cities.
The new survey, released by the US Federal Reserve last Thursday, found that gains in income have been far from uniform, with those making the most doing significantly better than everyone else.
The Fed report found ‘substantial disparities in the evolution of income and net worth’ since 2010. Those at the bottom of the scale continue to see their real incomes shrink, while the ‘middle class’ see little change.
Average, or mean, pre-tax income for the wealthiest ten per cent of US families rose by ten per cent in 2013 from 2010, but families in the bottom 40 per cent saw their average inflation-adjusted income decline over the same period, according to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which is conducted every three years.
The survey confirms that wealth is concentrated among a small number of ultra-rich Americans with the top three per cent holing more than half of the nation’s net worth.
The top three per cent of American families control 54.4 per cent of all wealth in the US. The number is up from 51.8 per cent in 2007 and 44.8 per cent in 1989.
From 2010 to 2013, US families gained about a four per cent increase in their income, accounting for inflation, while the top three per cent accounted for 30.5 per cent of all income, up from 27.7 per cent in 2010.
Woking class and middle class families who ‘failed to recover the losses experienced between 2007 and 2010’ remained mostly unchanged. The report also showed the lowest homeownership rate since 1995. About 65 per cent of families owned their primary residence in 2013.
”What disturbs me about this recovery, which has been the weakest in 50 years, is how feeble it has been, and we’ve been asking what are the reasons behind it,’ said Beth Ann Bovino, chief US economist at rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P), earlier in August on a report on wealth gap.
‘From my research and some of the analysis I saw from others, when you have extreme levels of inequality, it can hurt the economy,’ the economist added.
At least 19 demonstrators were arrested on Thursday morning in New York City’s Times Square, police told reporters.
Similar results were reported out of Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and elsewhere as employees at eateries from coast-to-coast rallied for an industry minimum wage of $15 and the ability to unionize.
At Times Square, a sit-in outside a McDonalds in New York’s famed theatre district started at 7am and netted nearly 20 arrests by the morning’s end, according to witnesses.
In California on Thursday, fast food workers from the East Bay rallied at Oakland civic centre and marched to Broadway and 12th St. where a Burger King was. It was closed so they had a sit in on the street where some were arrested. They demanded that the police ‘arrest the real criminals’. Many workers are forced to pay for food stamps.
The arrests in Oakland and other cities across the country on Thursday came as staff at a number of major fast food chains went on strike demanding their wages be increased to $15 an hour. Congressman Gwen Moore was among 27 people arrested near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Arrests were also made in Chicago, Detroit, Little Rock, Kansas City, Houston and Nashville.
The recurring actions backed by the SEIU union, which started in New York, have steadily gathered steam since late 2012. They have helped spur a national debate about the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009.
McDonald’s worker Latoya Walker lives in a homeless shelter and earns $8 per hour. She said: ‘With $15, I’d be able to save up enough to rent a home for my kids.’
Protest organisers said Thursday’s actions were the biggest to date, targeting chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Many of those protesting work 40 hours or more a week and say they cannot survive on such pay. Experts say about $11 an hour is the poverty threshold for a family of four.
US fast-food restaurants this year are expected to make profits of $7.2bn on revenue of nearly $200bn, according to research firm IBISWorld. Most of their US restaurants are owned by franchisees, who set their own wages and say that raising the hourly wage will hurt their businesses.
In Detroit, thirty protesters were arrested after a minimum wage protest outside an east side McDonald’s. Those arrested were among the crowd of about 200 protesters marching around the restaurant on Mack Avenue.
Several of the protesters went from civil picketing to locking arms and sitting in the street, preventing traffic from passing through. Detroit police said of the 30 people placed in handcuffs, 24 were ticketed for disorderly conduct and released. The remain six are being held because they have outstanding warrants, police said.
Organisers say the act of civil obedience was choreographed by the D15 campaign to bring more attention to the cause. One of the protest organisers, Pastor W.J. Rideout told reporters: ‘You know, we’re not afraid of anything; I told the police officers and I told the corporation that. We’re not scared. We’re here to send a message.’
Kaya Moody, a 20-year-old single mother who works at a different McDonald’s location in Detroit, has taken part in several protests. She said: ‘We always get the “Do you really think you deserve $15 an hour as a fast food worker?”. We get that a lot and I just feel like, who doesn’t deserve $15 an hour, you know? It’s a living wage. No one can survive off of $8.15 an hour, it’s almost impossible.’
Fifteen Chicago Fast Food workers were arrested on Thursday morning after engaging in civil disobedience in front of a McDonald’s and Burger King located at 29 E. 87th St.
Approximately 500 community, religious, and labour supporters joined the workers in the rally, as well as Alderman Alderman Sawyer of the 6th Ward and Alderman Muñoz of the 22nd ward and workers and union representatives from Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina.
One of those arrested, McDonald’s employee Brittney Berry, a mother of a two-year-old daughter, said: ‘We are doing whatever it takes because we can’t wait any longer. We never stop trying to get back on our feet, even when hard times knock us down. My family can’t wait any longer. I know we are so close to winning and that’s why I’m going to continue fighting until the end.’
The fight for the $15 andhour campaign has gained national attention. President Barack Obama said at a Labour Day appearance in Milwaukee last Monday: ‘There’s a national movement going on made up of fast food workers organising to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.’
Calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage, Obama added: ‘If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.’