The Baha’i Faith teaches that an equitable and just distribution of wealth is essential to the prosperity and progress of civilization. When ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Head of the Baha’i Faith (1892-1921) visited North America in 1912 he observed that, “This readjustment of the social economic is of the greatest importance inasmuch as it insures the stability of the world of humanity; and until it is effected, happiness and prosperity are impossible.”
New York mayor Mike Bloomberg was recently quoted as concerned about the stability of the country in the face of our economic malaise. For those who have been left behind by the great recession, learning that they have been part of a “lost decade” based on recent analysis of census data may deepen their frustration.
According to the Center for American Progress, some grim realities revealed by this data include: more than a third of our population is living on a low income. In 2010, 103.6 million people were living below $44,000 for a family of four (two times the federal poverty line). Income inequality increased from 2009 to 2010. Households in the bottom 20 percent by income saw their incomes fall by 4.5 percent, more than six times as much as the households in the top quintile.
Young people are getting hammered in this recession. More young adults (age 25-34) are moving in with their parents; 5.9 million young adults lived with their parents in 2010, up from 4.7 million before the recession. If you look at only the young adults’ income (instead of their parent’s income), the poverty rate among this group would be 45.3 percent. Households headed by a young person (age 15-24) saw the largest income decline of any age group as their income fell by more than 9 percent in the last year.
As explained by the Urban Institute, the jobs crisis is a significant contributor to these statistics. Approximately one in five non-elderly families experienced unemployment in 2010. Poverty increased with the number of weeks of unemployment. The poverty rate of the long-term unemployed was more than twice the rate of those with no unemployment in 2010.
Meanwhile the rich continue to get richer while most of us are just getting by. According to Mother Jones, a huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household while the average income for the bottom 90 is $31,244. And while millions of Americans struggle to find a job or keep their home, corporate profits are boomin‘.
For so many, the American Dream has become a dream deferred. Those who fear our current economic catastrophe may have apocalyptic consequences are pondering the question voiced by poet Langston Hughes:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?