New Internationalist

The Other America - the facts

Issue 351

MOST AMERICANS FACE VERY MUCH THE SAME SORT OF DIFFICULTIES AS EVERYONE ELSE

INEQUALITY

Divisions of wealth and power have reached unprecedented levels in America. While wages and welfare have stagnated or declined, the super-rich have got immeasurably richer.

OUT OF THE BOTTLE1The ‘gini co-efficient’ contrasts the income of the richest 10% of the population with the poorest 10%. Zero represents perfect equality and 100 perfect inequality. In the late 1990s the US was the 71st most unequal out of 112 countries – the same as Turkmenistan.

Selected country
Gini index score
rank

Slovakia

18.2

1 (most equal)

Japan

24.9

5

Canada

31.5

23

Australia

35.2

41

Ireland

35.9

47

Britain

36.1

48

India

37.8

55

China

40.3

66

US

40.8

71

Aotearoa/NZ

43.9

79

South Africa

59.3

107

Sierra Leone

62.9

112 (least equal)

Of the tax cuts made by President Bush, 43% have gone to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.2

His cuts in public expenditure so far have included:

– $700 million from public-housing repairs 

– $200 million from training programmes for dislocated workers 

– $500 million from the Environmental Protection Agency. 2

POVERTY^3^

More than 31 million Americans live in poverty. The number fell sharply from 1959 to the early 1970s, then rose again until the early 1990s. The rate then fell gradually until 2000 when it began to rise again – it rises rapidly during economic recession, which has prevailed in the US since 2000. Very little progress has been made on tackling poverty since the early 1970s.

Second Harvest, the largest network of Food Banks in the US, fed nearly 10% of the population in 1998 – and still had to turn away several million people. 4

In California, only 56% of tenants can afford the official Fair Market Rent. 4

Real wages in the US are now 12% less than they were in 1973. 4

Half the working population has no pension provision. 4

HEALTH

In 1998, combined public and private expenditure on health in the US was $4,180 per person. That was $1,441 more than its nearest rival, Switzerland, and by far the highest in the world. 5

Despite this: 38.7 million people – including 8.5 million children – were without health insurance in the year 2000. 6

When unemployment rose from 6 million in March to 7.7 million in October 2001, 725,000 workers lost their health insurance. 7

In March 2002, 1.36 million healthcare workers (including some doctors) had no health insurance: an increase of 98% since 1998. 8

AMERICANS ALSO HAVE SOME PROBLEMS ALL THEIR OWN

THE DOLLAR

What’s good for the dollar and the US economy is good for the world. That is the principle on which the global economic system is based. So Americans must keep on consuming come what may – including escalating public and personal debts.

Consumer debt (mostly credit cards) in the US more than doubled between June 1992 and June 2002, when it reached $1,713 billion ($1.7 trillion). This represents roughly $6,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. It is increasing at a rate of $90 billion a month. 9

On 13 August 2002, the US national debt stood at $6,161 billion ($6.1 trillion). This makes the US the world’s largest debtor by a very long way – more than $20,000 per head of the US population. It increases by about $1 billion every day. 10

The annual trade deficit (the amount by which imports exceed exports) grew from $29.5 billion in 1991 to $450 billion in 2000 – the largest in US history. 11

By way of contrast, in 1999 the US devoted just 0.1% of its Gross National Product to overseas aid: by far the smallest of any of the 28 members of the rich-country club, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); the US owes the UN $1 billion. 5

PRISONS

The US and the Russian Federation incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world – by a huge margin.

In February 2000, the US prison population reached 2 million. This represents 25% of the entire prison population of the world – from just 5% of the world’s population. 13

More than 500,000 people are employed by the prison system – running close to the two largest private employers, WalMart and General Motors. 13

Under the governorship of George W Bush, the prison population of Texas rose from 41,000 to 150,000. There were 3,600 people awaiting execution in the US in 2000 – 463 of them in Texas. 13

World prison population12

THE MILITARY^14^

The US spends more on its armed forces than the rest of the world put together.

The military accounts for $343 billion of the total Federal budget of $1,900 billion in 2002.

Since 11 September 2001 the military budget has jumped by $46 billion.

In 2000 the number of active military personnel was 1.4 million, down from a ‘peacetime’ peak of 2.2 million in 1987 – but still making the military the largest single employer in the US.

Between 1995 and 1999 the US accounted for 48% of all conventional arms exports – compared with its nearest rivals Russia (13%), France (11%) and Britain (7%).5

Global military spending

  1. Cities in a Globalizing World, UN Centre for Human Settlements (HABITAT), Earthscan, New York, 2001.
  2. Michael Moore, Stupid White Men, ReganBooks, New York, 2001.
  3. Poverty in the United States: 2000, US Census Bureau.
  4. Economic Human Rights Bus Tour, May 2001, Policy Brief no 5, Food First, Oakland, California, 2001.
  5. Human Development Report 2001, UNDP.
  6. Health Insurance Coverage: 2000, US Census Bureau.
  7. Special Report, Families USA, December 2001.
  8. American Journal of Public Health, March 2002.
  9. US Federal Reserve, http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/hist/cc_hist.sa.text
  10. US National Debt Clock, http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock
  11. US Trade Deficit Review Commission, http://www.ustdrc.gov/reports/reports
  12. Roy Walmsley, World Prison Population List, UK Home Office Research Findings, no 88, 1999.
  13. Dermot Sreenan, Workers Solidarity, no 59, Spring 2000.
  14. Center for Defense Information, Military Almanac 2001-02, http://www.cdi.org/

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