Labor Voices: Focus on income inequality

Cindy Estrada

It’s the holidays, the time of year when most of us increase charitable giving to make sure shelter, food and gifts are given to economically struggling men, women and children. A third of annual giving occurs in the last quarter of the year and 18 percent of that total is donated in December.

Labor unions and members are among the giving, sharing both time and money generously, year-round.

According to Charity Navigator, last year the American people donated over $390 billion, up from $335 billion in 2013. Nearly 72 percent of total giving is done by individuals. The rest is provided by foundations (15 percent), bequests (8 percent) and corporations (5 percent).

This year, as the charitable solicitations began to arrive in the mail, the Michigan League for Public Policy released data showing what our state’s economic struggle looks like. Nearly 16 percent of Michiganians — over 1.5 million people — live below the $24,340 federal income poverty line for a family of four, including nearly 300,000 children. This works out to 1 in 7 Michigan residents and 1 in 5 children living in poverty.

As area volunteers deliver Christmas food boxes and wrapped gifts, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet together own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population — about 160 million people. The top one-tenth of the top 1 percent of Americans own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of the country.

Those multi-millionaires and billionaires have a lot to celebrate this holiday season with Congressional Republicans making federal tax code revisions that include dropping the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and giving 80 percent of millionaires a tax cut; only about 46 percent of the working poor earning between $20,000 and $30,000 are expected to get a break.

While 1.4 million veterans are economically insecure, our public infrastructure is crumbling, our children are drinking dirty water, our right to health care is denied, and future generations face a downward economic future, majority Republicans added another $1.5 trillion to our current $20 trillion national debt to give an obscene tax gift to their powerful donors and allies. As we write our charitable giving checks to help those in need, those same legislators are already targeting our country’s social safety net programs for severe cuts, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food and cash assistance, and education funding.

The tax plan and expected budget cuts to pay for it will hit Michigan hard twice: when millions of Michigan families file their tax forms and see little or no relief, and when the state’s federal government appropriations are reduced in a state budget currently funded by the federal government at 42 percent — the second highest appropriation in the country.

Charitable giving is important, but adding activism to challenge the root cause for why too many are suffering would be the most generous and meaningful contribution of all — and a good resolution to make and keep in 2018.

Cindy Estrada is vice president of the UAW.


Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.