As the nation goes, perhaps Maine also should go

A new report on American incomes this week would have been shocking had its message not already become so familiar.

The top 1 percent now collects 19.3 percent of the national income – one fifth, while the top 10 percent gets 48.2 percent -- nearly half. Ninety percent of us make do with just half the pie.

Income inequality has been growing since the Reagan tax cuts, but disparities have now reached breathtaking proportions.

Income distribution hasn’t been this unequal since the ominous year of 1928 – just before the crash that led to the Great Depression, and then New Deal legislation that was supposed to have permanently cured America’s division into haves and have-nots. The growth of the middle class was the dominant story of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, decades also featuring strong labor unions, steadily rising incomes, high marginal tax rates, and a remarkably bipartisan approach to economic policy.

If you think those happy economic times bear no relation to our present state, you’re right. The question is what we intend to do about it.

In Maine and the nation, one dominant narrative has shaped our thinking for three decades. It runs like this: Government has become too big. It can’t create jobs, which is the job of the private sector (i.e. corporate executives, not workers). Cutting taxes and spending leads to prosperity.

But don’t take it from me. Scott Moody of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, provides a succinct summary concerning what Maine should do about its aging population: “We understand that creating opportunities for young people ... begins with shrinking the tax burden, repealing oppressive nanny-state regulations, and ensuring that government intervention in the economy is limited.”

But the narrative is fraying. If reducing government is the cure-all, why did the top 1 percent not only increase its share, but accounts for 95 percent of all income gains since 2009, when the recovery officially began? Yes, that’s right: 95 percent.

The middle class has been decimated by the continuing economic crisis, and its future is threatened by continued public spending cuts. The 10 percent reduction in state education funding since 2008 doesn’t threaten people who can send their kids to private school, but it does cloud the future of those who aspire to get ahead on their own merits.

Is government really the problem?

An early indication of a turning tide came in Tuesday’s primary races for New York City mayor. An unabashed liberal, Bill DeBlasio, took the Democratic vote and looks likely to win in November.

Already alarm bells are sounding. A liberal will bankrupt New York City again! Rich people will flee! America’s most dynamic city will collapse!

None of these things are likely to happen. Clues about political trends in America’s largest city – at 8.3 million residents, larger than 39 entire states – came through exit polls.

Of Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 6-1, 50 percent thought Michael Bloomberg has been a good mayor, but 75 percent said the city needs a new direction.

De Blasio made two promises for change. The first is to increase taxes on the wealthiest to provide universal pre-kindergarten education. The second is to end Bloomberg’s policy of “stop and frisk,” where police stopped just about anyone without evidence a crime had been committed, but disproportionately those who are nonwhite and from poor neighborhoods. The practice may not actually reduce crime rates, but it convinces millions of minority residents they’re second-class citizens.

Massachusetts elected Republican governors for 20 years before, in 2006, picking Democrat Deval Patrick. In New York City, Democrats were content with Republican mayors for 20 years – where Bloomburg started before his moderate views forced him to leave the party. But no more, apparently.

These Republicans of yesteryear were elected in Democratic states because voters were persuaded businesses needed more tax incentives and the wealthy needed tax cuts.

Yet economic growth has been far slower than the post-war decades, and what growth has occurred benefits only a small minority of families.

What has this to do with Maine? The narrative here is similar. State government spent too much, regulated too much, and didn’t provide enough financial help to business. The only Democratic governor during this period, John Baldacci, adopted policies that should have pleased any contemporary Republican except the tea party branch – with the exception of Dirigo Health, a precursor of Obamacare, which he abandoned after its first year.

And in those three decades, Maine lagged even farther behind the rest of New England and has hit bottom under Paul LePage. Its performance on job creation is among the worst in the nation.

Is it time for a new narrative here, too?

Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 28 years. He can be reached at

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RONALD RIML's picture

The purpose of the private sector is not to create jobs -

but to create wealth. It has done this by exporting American jobs to sweat-shops overseas.

The "Maine Heritage Policy Center" is a tool of the wealthy. They recently published in their "Maine Wire" the following, falsely stating that the poor owned a significant percentage of household appliances by misquoting census reports.

U.S. Census: Poor Americans don’t have it so bad

"Being poor is a little more comfortable these days. According to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday, a majority of households falling below the federal “poverty” line nonetheless enjoy the convenience of air conditioners, clothes washers and dryers, televisions, computers, cellphones and other appliances.

According to the data, which was collected throughout 2011, the following percentages of American households below the “poverty” line owned the following appliances:

Clothes washer: 68.7 percent

Clothes dryer: 65.3 percent

Dish washer: 44.9 percent"


Nowhere does the census report* state that persons below the poverty line "Own" these appliances, but rather that they report having them. Most likely the owners of these appliances may be "Landlords, "Rent-a-Centers" - or we taxpayers through subsidized housing.

See Table #1 - Percent of Households Reporting Consumer Durables, For Householders 15 Years and Older, by Selected Characteristics: 2011

MARK GRAVEL's picture

"... It has done this by

"... It has done this by exporting American jobs to sweat-shops overseas."

Given that there are many business that need a presences in the US to create wealth and a plethora of small business that cannot and will not export jobs, I'll make the call - YOU ARE FULL OF S*IT.

Let's face it Ronald, you hate multinational corporations. You only view them as a cash cow. Like it or not, other nations have a right to compete for jobs. Thinking that America has a right to these jobs is simply showing your own greed and ignorance.

Get with it Ronald, there is a whole other world outside the US border. This country is not the center of the universe.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Perhaps you should have read

Perhaps you should have read the original study from the Heritage Foundation. The report is clear on where appliance data comes from, and it is not from the census bureau.

Get your facts straight Ronald.

RONALD RIML's picture

Stick to the issue and don't deflect, mark.

I quoted the Maine Heritage Policy Center's "The Wire" article U.S. Census: Poor Americans don’t have it so bad

It emphatically states: "According to the data, which was collected throughout 2011, the following percentages of American households below the “poverty” line owned the following appliances:

Clothes washer: 68.7 percent

Clothes dryer: 65.3 percent

Dish washer: 44.9 percent

Air conditioner: 83.4 percent

Television: 96.1 percent

Video recorder/DVR: 83.2 percent

Computer: 58.2 percent

Cell phone: 80.9 percent"

- In neither the Census nor Dept of Energy do the report 'Owning' these amenities, but report having them.


Note that Maine Heritage Policy Center numbers differ from the ones you present in the Heritage Foundations Report. Further research by you (such as perusing the MHPC article) would reveal that the MHPC directly references U.S. Census Bureau Report Extended Measures of Well-being: Living Conditions in the United States, 2011 - a report six years more timely than the graph you reference.

Yet the Census Bureau Reports - like the U.S. Department of Energy Survey which your reference, do not indicate 'ownership' but merely the report of 'having' such items. - (You should also note that your 'Heritafe Foundation report also gives credit to the Census Bureau)

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Okay, the issue is poor

Okay, the issue is poor people have access to loads of amenities that poor did not have access to decades ago. It really does not matter if they own them, rent them, or stole them. The fact is, they are using them. This is the issue.

Simple question - do or do not poor have access to these amenities as the study outlines?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

"do not indicate 'ownership'

"do not indicate 'ownership' but merely the report of 'having' such items."

So, of one has such items, but do not own them, can we infer those items are stolen?

Or does it really matter if they don't own such items, but have access to use such items? Isn't that the same as owning them and using them.

It is highly likely that of one has such items, they own such items.

Let me quote one of your idols (or is it idiots): At this point, what difference does it make?

RONALD RIML's picture

'Ownership does matter'

Let me relieve you of your patents and see how you'd squawk!!!!

It's highly doubtful the poor actually own these appliances. But what would you know; spending all that time working in the ghetto.....

MARK GRAVEL's picture

"Ownership does matter" If I

"Ownership does matter"

If I get to wash my laundry in my place of residence, what does it matter whether I own the appliance or not?

Tell the readers Ron...nald. We are itching for your explanation.

RONALD RIML's picture

I'll remember that -

Next time you're pizzing and moaning that your tax $$$ might be paying for some poor Sod's appliances.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Ronald, You have nothing. No


You have nothing. No reason way owner matters - period.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

way --> why

way --> why

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Seriously, I'm interested in

Seriously, I'm interested in why you think ownership matters assuming an individual has access to the same appliance given they don't own it.

Got an answer?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Got no answer! That is what I

Got no answer! That is what I expected - nothing, empty space, null set.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Patents - just got awarded

Patents - just got awarded three more.

Now back to the topic at hand. If I live my life with access to a washer/drier in my home or rent, does it really matter if I own them or not?

After all, I lived an entire life availing myself of the modern convenience. In fact, not owning them would be a financical benefit to the individual since someone else would be responsible for the maintenance. That gives the poor renter an advantage over the rest of us.

What a win!

RONALD RIML's picture

Not the point. The one I made was:

Conservative Media (The Maine Wire) reported that the 'Poor' owned them.

Misleading falsehood

MARK GRAVEL's picture

I get your point, but what

I get your point, but what difference does it make - that is my point.

In a nutshell, the poor have access to the same amenities as the rest of us.

The poor are not doing laundry on the banks of the Androscoggin river nor in a bucket with a washing board.

No income redistribution needed - move along.


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