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Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City march for universal healthcare on October 26, 2011. (Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Precarious Democracy

A political agenda for the precarious class.

BY Joel Bleifuss

Millions of Americans face a precarious financial future, thanks to the democratic institutions that are meant to represent them.

In our January 2014 issue, In These Times explores how life has become increasingly precarious for the many Americans who lack job security—a trend that is the predictable result of the ongoing disempowerment of the American worker.

But it is not only the corporate system that is impoverishing our citizens. Millions of Americans face a precarious financial future, thanks to the democratic institutions that are meant to represent them.

Seniors who rely on Social Security are beset by D.C. budget-cutters bent on reducing cost-of-living increases. The poor go hungry in the wake of congressional cuts to food stamps. Retirees in the public sector face uncertain futures as state and local governments turn away from their pension obligations.

As college costs rise, recent graduates, temping for dollars, struggle to pay record-setting student loans.

The list could go on and on.

It’s not that the United States, one of the richest countries on earth, lacks the resources to remedy the situation. The problem is how our nation’s immense wealth is distributed—or, more accurately, how it is maldistributed to the very few. The figures are stark: In 2010, the richest 1 percent of Americans owned 35 percent of the nation’s privately held wealth, and the next 19 percent owned 54 percent. The remaining 80 percent of Americans held only 11 percent of the wealth.

In a speech on Dec. 4, 2013, President Obama decried “an economy that’s become profoundly unequal” with the end result being that “a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family.”

There are remedies. National and state laws mandating more progressive taxation could transfer some of the wealth held by the top 1 percent into public coffers, where it could be allocated to alleviate the precarious existence of Americans.

Will that happen? Fat chance.

A couple of factors stand in the way. Our elected leaders—Democrats and Republicans alike—depend on the largesse of the rich to win re-election. And faith in the idea that government is a source of reform is in deep decline. Case in point: the Obamacare rollout debacle. We hope and trust that the ACA will right itself and constitute a measurable improvement over the status quo. But we are equally confident that Obamacare must ultimately be replaced by a more comprehensive social democratic solution: universal single-payer health insurance. A guarantee of healthcare would improve the bargaining position of workers, raise the expectations of citizens, and embolden seniors, parents, patients and the disabled. This should be a key political objective of the precariat. Its realization would go a long way to ease the anxiety of millions who live on the edge.

In These Times was founded on the belief that an independent media dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. The uprising of the precariat will depend on an independent press that has the courage to advocate on its behalf, and channel its voices and demands.

As In These Times budgets for the 2014 fiscal year, we are gearing up to make up a more than $50,000 projected deficit. We will need your help to fulfill our belief that reform is possible and that we—In These Times staff, writers and readers working together—are part of the solution.

Help keep our reporting possible by making a donation today.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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