Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Dow is Up, But Donations Are Down for Philadelphia Area Families

Volunteers for the UAC Thanksgiving Basket Program
It was fantastic weather in Philadelphia over the weekend, after dinner with friends in nearby Rockledge on Saturday night I headed to the Eagles Washington game at the Linc on Sunday afternoon.

While the 24-16 Washington loss (despite a heroic 4th quarter rally) was admittedly disappointing, a post-game stop at Tony Luke's for what is arguably THE best cheese steak in Philly did make me feel a little better; (sorry Gino's and Pat's).

To observe the massive glass towers that now define the growing downtown Philly skyline as well as the new football and baseball stadiums and the new Wells Fargo Center indoor arena, the City of Brotherly love exudes an air of prosperity that's at odds with some of the financial realities facing this city of over 1.5 million people and the nation as well.

In light of the record highs reached by the Dow and the S&P 500 on Monday that were so widely trumpeted by mainstream media, one might assume the country has finally turned the corner from the effects of the Great Recession of 2008 that proved so devastating to lower and middle class Americans and entered a new phase of recovery. Unfortunately that's not true for everyone.

That was painfully evident to me on Sunday as we drove from Rockledge down through some fairly depressed looking neighborhood areas of North Philly to get to Lincoln Financial field for the Eagles game. But the signs aren't restricted to any one neighborhood.

Yesterday on NBC 10 News (Philadelphia) a local minister was interviewed to call for donations from the public for the annual Thanksgiving Basket Program, a cooperative effort between the city's Urban Affairs Coalition and Brown's Shoprite to provide Thanksgiving meal baskets to more than 6,000 Philadelphia families living in poverty. Unfortunately the Department of Community & Economic development is no longer funding this holiday program, so the UAC needs to close a $5,000 budget shortfall to purchase turkeys for the meal baskets.  

I was surprised to learn from the minister interviewed on NBC 10 that Philadelphia currently has the nation's 2nd highest rate of poverty at 28% for large cities. Think about that number. 28% of a population of over 1.5 million live in poverty. This is at a time when Republicans in Washington are slashing funding for Food Stamps from the latest version of the Farm Bill and as the UAC Website notes, 3 of every 10 people in Philadelphia are eligible for Food Stamps but not all receive them.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high nationwide despite steady monthly job gains, and wages for the working and middle class remain stagnant and virtually unchanged since the 1970's when you factor in cost of living adjustments and inflation. You have to scratch your head when you consider that corporate profits are at an all-time high and the Dow and S&P 500 are breaking new territory.

Just today MSNBC's Now with Alex Wagner had a segment about McDonald's subsidizing it's corporate profits by paying it's workers poverty wages (52% of fast food workers must live on public assistance or Food Stamps).

What's really happening in this country when Congress slashes funding for Food Stamps but allows McDonald's to make US taxpayers fork out a staggering $1.5 billion in yearly government benefits to subsidize the low wages it pays it's workforce? As Alex Wagner reported, the six heirs to the massive Wal-Mart fortune collectively have more net worth than the entire bottom 40% of the United States.

Have you heard about the growing controversy surrounding Wal-Mart setting out plastic bins inside their stores for their own employees to donate food to OTHER Wal-Mart employees in need? Seriously? Wal-Mart spends an estimated $7 billion a year to buy back it's own stock in order to increase shareholder profits, but they can't increase wages for it's employees? Talk about welfare queens, put a crown on McDonald's and Wal-Mart.

I'm no news editor but it seems like the real story about wage inequality in the United States, stagnant compensation and pay and record corporate profits without significant hiring gains ought to be receiving the same kinds of headlines as the Dow trading at over 16,000. At least we can put the trickle-down theory to bed.

While affecting broader changes in corporate responsibility and wage fairness issues will require more sustained efforts by all Americans, at the least you can visit the Urban Affairs Coalition Website and kick in a few bucks to help a Philadelphia area family celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a nice meal.

No comments: