Economic Justice

Neoliberalism’s Destructive Path: Part 1

Trump is wrong about homelessness, but he’s not the only one. Most of those in the top 20% are just as clueless and too insulated by their privileges to care - until they lose everything and it happens to them.

Our growing homelessness and abject poverty crisis started when the War on the Poor was launched 40 years ago. And the fault lies 100% with comfortably-off defenders of deeply entrenched neoliberal ideology that was promoted with a heavy overdose of propaganda by wealthy Libertarians, far-Right types, and social Darwinists of every flavor who peddled this dogshit to the public while calling it chocolate candy.

Neoliberalism operates within the capitalist framework and pushes for deregulation of industries and the privatization or outright elimination of social/public services. Neoliberalism is not within the purview of any particular political party. It is an economic framework and ideology that disregards human rights and holds that the only human rights anyone deserves are those which each person can personally afford. It holds that poverty is due to individual poor choices, and not due to systemic injustices and failures. (You may know neoliberalism by other names such as corporatism or inverted totalitarianism - a term coined by Sheldon Wollin.)

Homelessness and the growth of deep poverty, per global standards, have been an ongoing and increasingly systemic problem. Since neoliberalism took hold and began to infest every corner of society --- every societal institution, every social and public policy, and every media outlet --- it has collapsed the floor from underneath America’s poor, with the full blessing and support from America’s middle and upper classes,  who never cared about struggling poor people and who never wanted the poorest to have a chance. 

 Why? Because Americans - especially those with the most privileges - have always been stunningly selfish and cruel. And stupid.

Politicians on the local, state and federal levels, along with the mainstream media, all played a huge role in “disappearing” the jobless/unemployable poor from the public square --- until unrelieved deep poverty (and the homelessness resulting from that) finally reached a point where it can no longer be ignored, or swept under the rug by talking heads, politicians, academics, and policymakers. This includes those who define the “official” unemployment statistics that continue to ignore and exclude people who’ve been involuntarily and permanently pushed out of the economy (largely due to age and disability discrimination by the employers).

The Growing Permanent Underclass

The War on the Poor and the death of the middle class began over 40 years ago with the deregulation of the airline and trucking industries during Carter’s final term in 1978, immediately followed by the elimination of direct employment programs that fell under the Economic Opportunity Act, which established the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), for helping poor, marginalized people with no connection to the labor force in 1980.

CETA was the Great Society umbrella program established under Title 1 that extended a helping hand up to socio-economically disadvantaged people without any clear path to employment by directly employing them - providing a toehold onto the middle class jobs ladder for poor women, minorities, anyone who was long-term unemployed, and anyone who was isolated and marginalized by generational poverty, regardless of race or gender,  with federally subsidized employment.

CETA moved marginalized and disadvantaged people up out of deep poverty and welfare dependency by giving them a toehold onto the jobs ladder with federally subsidized employment with paid on-the-job training. And these CETA jobs were NOT "make-work" jobs.

A lot of poor people from generational poverty who otherwise wouldn't have gotten a chance for any jobs at all, if forced to compete against more advantaged people for jobs without a helping hand up, made it up out of poverty into the middle class because of CETA. They got hired in middle-class jobs like librarian, courthouse clerk/stenographer, licensed practical nurse (LPN), and law enforcement (just to name a few) through CETA.

Budget cuts and freezes to programs like HUD Section 8 housing also were enacted during Reagan’s presidency. Cash benefits under welfare (then known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC) have remained frozen at the same levels as they were in 1987 and have not been increased since then to keep up with the cost of living. Blanket denial policies for SSI applicants were implemented under Reagan. And today, our largest “public housing” stock is our prison system - courtesy of Bill Clinton.

And before Clinton left office, he began to “reform” social security disability similar to the way he “reformed” welfare, targeting the poorest disabled Americans with SSI benefit level cuts and increasingly punitive means-testing bureaucratic hoops, making it increasingly impossible to qualify for SSI. Welfare Reform wasn’t a “contract with America”, it was a contract on poor Americans.

The result: the majority of Americans with disabilities and chronic health problems that employers are unwilling to hire and accommodate in the workplace cannot get ANY help at all, nor are we able to compete against the fully-abled for jobs because the playing field has been irredeemably rigged.

Unions fell under attack, starting with Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers on strike. The Teamsters union, which represented the majority of truck drivers, had been dealt a death blow when the Federal Motor Carrier Act was passed in 1980, deregulating the trucking industry. This placed the onus of trucking safety rules and regulations entirely on the drivers instead of on the freight carriers and the freight carriers’ customers.

All of this meant lower pay and more financial risk in the form of increased civil and criminal legal liabilities and steep, unaffordable US DOT fines for truck drivers who are employed by trucking companies.

Skilled trades unions fell next - just in time for women and minorities to finally get accepted into them. All workers, irrespective of gender or race, whether they were union or not, took an additional hit from the rise of “right-to-work” and “at-will” employment laws which not only unraveled worker protections against wage theft but also rendered equal opportunity employment laws against job discrimination utterly toothless.

All of this served to undermine working-class people’s incomes and reduce their overall quality of life, sealing poor people’s fate by eliminating our life chances altogether - while blaming the poorest for not being able to make it no matter how hard we tried, or what we tried, or for how long we kept trying, only to get nothing except kept down and poor, with all our hopes and dreams crushed underfoot and ground into the dirt underprivileged people’s fancy shoes.

Pell grants were slashed and bankruptcy protection for student loans, as well as interest rate caps on student loans, were removed via the Gramm-Rudman bill during the Bush I administration in 1991. This happened just when employers began requiring college degrees as the entry-level minimum qualification for white-collar jobs that don’t (and shouldn’t) require college degrees. As a result, the poor were frozen out of the “new economy” jobs that paid enough to live on.

Then the prisons were privatized, morphing into profit-seeking slave labor enterprises as laws that disproportionately hurt the poor and working-class, such as Three Strikes laws, were passed by Neoliberal Democrats in Congress and the White House who wanted to prove that they too were willing to “get tough on crime” to the upper-middle-class suburban moderate Republican voters whom they were courting.

Make no mistake about it, getting “tough on crime” really means getting tough on poor marginalized people.

Neoliberals pushed the traditional FDR-style Democrats out of the Democratic Party starting in the late 1970’s, gradually replacing them with “Third Way”/corporate Democrats like the Clintons who ushered in globalism by insourcing foreign “guest” workers with abuses of the H1-B and L-1 visa programs[1] alongside the outsourcing of American jobs via trade agreements like NAFTA - hurting working-class Americans and Mexicans alike as middle class manufacturing jobs went to the maquiladora zone where Mexican workers had none of the rights and workplace safety protections[2]enjoyed by the US workers who previously held those same jobs.

This, together with the Savings & Loan crisis and the collapse of family farms across the Midwest in the 1980s, cuts and eliminations to social safety net programs, deregulation and privatization of utilities - causing unaffordable rate hikes, and a middle-class jobs pie that’s been shrinking since the 1980s - directly resulted in an ongoing increase in deep poverty, homelessness, human sex trafficking, and the student loan debt crisis we have today. It also caused growing resentment, desperation and rage to fester - evidenced by the alarming rise in mass shootings we’re seeing now.

Democrats didn’t worry about alienating their traditional “base” of working-class and poor people by shipping out jobs while collapsing the floor from underneath the poorest Americans with Welfare Reform - putting everyone who was at least one rung above the chronically jobless poor on increasingly insecure economic ground while arrogantly saying “there’s nowhere else for those people to go.” Well, Donald Trump finally seized the day by giving “those people” somewhere else to go.

For the past 40 years, Americans trapped in the permanent underclass retreated in apathy, withdrawing from the “democratic” political processes of a society that didn’t care about us or even acknowledge the harsh realities of our existence - except to ridicule us, telling us if we were “too stupid/uneducated” to be able to compete against H1-B and L-1 foreign “guest” workers for good-paying tech jobs, and other types of immigrants for rapidly vanishing blue-collar middle class jobs, and if we weren’t prospering in the “new economy”, it was our own fault that we were poor and suffering and unable to make it.

Politically active privileged people in the top 10% initially said they didn’t want to hurt the “deserving” poor, but then they decided that no one poor is deserving.

And throughout all of this, the ranks of the socially excluded and economically discarded grew. But this growing underclass has been (and still is) deliberately ignored by everyone, from those who compile the “official” unemployment statistics to politicians, to the media, to local officials who’ve criminalized the poor and tried to sweep (literally) the growing number of destitute homeless and jobless Americans under the rug and out of sight.

Even most “progressive” social justice movements ignore the chronically unemployed poor and pander to middle-class people’s concerns/issues. 

Chronically poor, marginalized people, who’ve been iced out of any and all job opportunities for decades, many who are now “aging out” of the labor force and whose hopes of ever getting a job are close to zero, see no point in voting since no candidate is, or has been, fighting for them. They see even fewer reasons for participating in “grassroots progressive” groups that are all too frequently led and dominated by socio-economically privileged people that are taking up space away from actual poor people, as well as taking limited money in the form of public donations that should instead be going to the Gofundmes, PayPals, and Patreons of actual poor, marginalized people who are suffering without jobs, struggling for their lives without any income or access to resources who really need that money but whom nobody is economically supporting.  Many of these groups/privileged individuals won’t even cede the mic to the chronically poor and downtrodden whom they claim to be fighting for while demanding that these same least-resourced and most economically distressed people do all the heavy lifting that make it possible for the movements to exist. Case in point: the anti-trafficking movement with its ongoing shameful treatment by economically privileged non-survivors, of the actual poor struggling trafficking survivors whom the movement is supposed to be about.

The result: a growing number of poor people trapped in the permanent underclass who retreated into apathy, walking away from the political process and the rest of society.  


[1] Tata’s Buffalo office, Clinton’s ‘brainchild,’ since closed

[2] When I lost my hands making flatscreens I can't afford, nobody would help me | Rosa Moreno

Join us for Part 2, as we continue to describe how the truth about homelessness and America’s poverty crisis was kept from the rest of the public with a well-orchestrated neoliberal propaganda machine. You can also support this (literally starving) author’s work with a small monthly pledge to her Patreon “99 Reasons Why”:

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