Notwithstanding Donald Trump's 4-Pinocchio claim that low-end wages are on the rise, there is an ample body of evidence that wealth inequality has reached levels not seen since the onset of the Great Depression. Those who study the issue often compare the financial holdings of the privileged few to those of the many.
A 2017 study, for example, revealed that just three individuals – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos – had, at that point, held as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the American population --- some 160 million people. It's a wealth gap that continues to grow exponentially.
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is the Ebenezer Scrooge-like poster child for obscene wealth disparity. Last year, Bezos agreed to pay Amazon employees $15 per hour wages, but only after sustained pressure from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who introduced the StopBezosAct.
At $15 per hour, a full time, 40 hour per week Amazon employee would earn $31,200 per year, before taxes. How generous! According to Business Insider, every 60 seconds, Bezos earns $149,353. That's more than four (4) full-time Amazon employees collectively earn in a year. Bezos' per minute earnings are $56,000 higher than the $93,170 in annual earnings an individual would have to make in order to be placed within the top 10%.
In the minds of most people, $215 million looks like an enormous sum of money, and it is. Business Insider reports that Bezos rakes in $215 million per day, every day, and more than $6.5 billion per year. Amazon, which reported $11.2 billion in earnings last year, did not pay one dime in federal taxes.
While these numbers are essential to understanding our gaping inequality problem, they really don't do much by way of exposing what life is like for those at the bottom end of the scale, to wit: the homeless, who, to many, are simply "invisible" .
In a recently released report (see below) titled, "Paradise Lost", Eric Johnson of Seattle ABC News affiliate, KOMO, takes an in depth look at what wealth disparity has wrought for those at the very bottom --- the 59,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Not mentioned by Johnson is that 11% of those struggling to survive without a roof over their heads are U.S. military veterans. The numbers of individuals in L.A. who are slipping into the homeless abyss, according to Johnson, are increasing --- by 16% over the previous year.
Johnson focused on what he described as "the worst man-made disaster in the United States" --- "53 square blocks of suffering and mental illness and drugs on a level that is hard to fathom." For the homeless of L.A., conditions may be even worse than those experienced during the Great Depression. They face what Johnson described as "the long-ignored cousin of addiction and homelessness: disease."
"We have not seen conditions for humans like this since medieval times. Period. And that's a fact," Dr. Drew Pinsky told Johnson. He is, literally, correct...
In addition to a sharp rise in tuberculosis, Pinsky said there are likely cases of Bubonic Plague, aka "The Black Death". The Plague is a bacterial disease transmitted by fleas from rats to humans. It was responsible for a pandemic that killed over 25 million people during the 14th century.
In addition to typhus, which is usually contracted from body lice, there have also been cases of typhoid fever, a potentially deadly illness caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria that can be spread through contaminated food, water or close contact with someone already infected. Typhoid fever is a condition found in developing countries but rarely in industrial nations --- a point that raises the question as to whether, for those at the bottom, the United States is slipping into Third World status.
In viewing the video, the unfamiliar may gloss over Pinsky's reference to "staph infections". Its significance can be found in our prior coverage of the tragic case of Charles Romano, who, while undergoing a shoulder surgery, was infected by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (the extraordinarily aggressive, antibiotic resistant staph infection known as MRSA). That staph infection led first to a total paralysis, extraordinary suffering, and, ultimately, Romano's death. [Disclosure: The author represented Romano before the California Workers' Compensation Appeals Board and at the state Court of Appeal.]
According to Pinsky, there has also been a significant outbreak of Hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver disease, which, in rare cases, can cause an acute loss of liver function.
The diseases have not been confined to the homeless. Police officers have experienced infections. Los Angeles City Hall experienced a rat infestation, and Andy Bale, the CEO of the L.A. Union Rescue Center, lost a leg as a result of infections he contracted while delivering water to the homeless.
While the video provides a much needed look at the problem, it was short on solutions. There were references to an unspecified failures of the L.A. City Council. That doesn't cut it. Homelessness cannot be adequately addressed at the local level. The root cause of homelessness is systemic: structural inequality. Ours is a system, which, as of 2012, permitted the world's super-rich to hoard $32 trillion in tax-evading offshore accounts. That matter was compounded in 2018, as a result of the Trump/GOP tax cuts which went disproportionately to the ultra wealthy and which added $1.9 trillion to the federal debt.
There are a multitude of means for addressing structural inequality, but most, such as a federal wealth tax, cannot be adequately addressed at the local level.
KOMO News' "Paradise Lost" report follows...