Have-Nots still come up short

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

by Peter Funt

The brightest economic news in years shows that median household income in the U.S. has climbed to $56,516. And get this: It means that most Americans need only $49,943,484 in additional earnings or net worth to qualify for a fill up at a gas station to be built in Greenwich, Conn. (more about which in a moment).

The frustration among the middle class is that even with the dramatic rise, family income, adjusted for inflation, remains below the 2007 level.  The official poverty rate, also improved in the new Census Bureau figures, is still unacceptably high at 13.5 percent.

No wonder so many Americans continue to tell pollsters that the nation is on the “wrong track.” The nation’s richest “haves” remain stunningly ahead of “have-nots.”

Which brings us to the news about a gas station and convenience store being built in the tiny town of Greenwich. In order to purchase gas your net worth must be at least $50 million! Let’s restate that for emphasis and clarity: In order to buy gasoline at the new GP Club — operated by Guess Petroleum – families must prove a net worth of $50 million and also pay a hefty annual membership fee.

This monument to ostentatiousness is the brainchild of Guess Corp., a North Carolina conglomerate that markets everything from diamonds to yachts and private jets. Its slogan is “Look beyond today.”

The gasoline “clubs” are designed as four-story mansions. Motorists will be met by a valet who will take care of filling the tank and provide a hand wash and wax, while members visit the “convenience store” that in addition to snacks includes a salon and swimming pool.

Guess claims it will open 250 of these clubs internationally over the next two years.

The company’s plans are so outlandish that they have prompted skepticism from a leading convenience store trade publication, CSP Magazine. It says the level of “ambitiousness if not downright bizarreness” has led its editors and readers to question whether Guess is for real.

Who knows? But news of the Connecticut plan was greeted with an unqualified, enthusiastic story in the Greenwich Time, a Hearst daily serving the region.

The typical GP Club customer would be a CEO of any one of the nation’s 350 largest corporations. In 1965, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the heads of such firms made 20 times more than their typical workers. Today, they make roughly 300 times more.

The average salary for the bottom 90 percent of Americans has increased by about 15 percent over the last 35 years. During the same period, compensation for the wealthiest 1 percent has climbed by 138 percent.

As a result, 35 percent of the nation’s wealth is currently owned by the richest 1 percent.

Even the just-released household income figures, met with large and enthusiastic headlines, contain at least one bit of gloomy data. While family income grew in urban zones, it actually fell by 2 percent for those living and working outside metropolitan areas.

Donald Trump says he will boost income for Americans by cutting taxes, mostly for corporations; eliminating or reducing regulations governing businesses, and reforming trade policies.

Hillary Clinton advocates a surcharge on multi-millionaires; closing corporate tax loopholes; providing tax relief for middle-class families, and reducing taxes for small businesses.

While the rise in household income is a good sign, much remains to be done to reduce income inequality, and the presidential candidates should be made to focus on it in their Sept. 26 debate.

Most Americans are perfectly willing to pull their own weight and, for that matter, pump their own gas. What they don’t like is a system that continues to favor the wealthy while leaving many poor and middle-class families running on empty.

PETER FUNT can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. He is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.