Some current political statistics may surprise you – they surprised me. For decades, Democrats have portrayed Republicans as the party of the rich and themselves as champions of middle- and lower-class Americans.
A recent and little-noticed study of incomes, based on Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Census Bureau data, found a significant shift in the economic status of districts represented by Democrats and Republicans. Democrats now represent a majority of the nation’s richest districts, and more than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats hold both Senate seats.
In the wealthiest one-third of the 435 congressional districts, Democrats represent 58 percent of those jurisdictions. Contrary to common perception, the vast majority of conservative House members represent basic middle-income districts.
This profound shift in demographics is already affecting issues such as tax policy. The Democrats’ war cry of “tax the rich” is becoming softened because of the well-heeled constituencies they represent.
The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), enacted in 1969 to prevent wealthy taxpayers from using tax breaks to avoid paying income taxes, has been snaring middle-class citizens as their incomes rose. The biggest chunk of these taxpayers live in “blue” Democrat states. For that reason, liberal Democrat senators like Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer have now joined Republicans in efforts to eliminate the AMT. Even New York Rep. Charles Rangel authored stop-gap legislation recently to prevent millions more taxpayers from being victimized next year by the AMT.
Illinois Democrat Congressman Rahm Emanuel now also wants the AMT “fixed” without a tax hike offset. He is responding to 2008 election pressures from prosperous constituents on this and other tax issues. Earlier Rangel proposals to raise taxes on Wall Street financiers and hedge-fund managers have also receded into the background. Why? Because many of these are major contributors to the Democratic Party.
It is getting more difficult to distinguish Democrats from Republicans in Washington. Increasingly, Republicans in Congress represent basic middle-class districts and more Democrats represent well-heeled constituencies. These new demographic realities guarantee profound political implications. Will Republicans adopt a new mantra, declaring Democrats the party of the rich?
With congressional Republicans giving congressional Democrats a run for their money on which party is the biggest spender, the “championship” here depends on who can stuff the most “earmarks” for their districts into the budget. Remember: Earmarks have never passed the scrutiny of budget hearings, committee recommendations or even the agencies they fund. It is not unusual for those agencies to object to the costly shenanigans of individual congresspersons’ pork barrel. A democratic republic cannot indefinitely sustain such profligacy, and both parties deserve blame.
A different set of statistics coming from scholars at the National Crime Victimization Survey may also surprise you. Both violent and property crime are at their lowest level since 1973. New York City expects fewer than 500 homicides for 2007. In 1990 it recorded 2,245 homicides.
Teen drug use has fallen by 23 percent since the late 1990s. The U.S. welfare caseload has dropped 60 percent since 1994, and as much as 90 percent in some states. Since the 1996 welfare reform, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty and child hunger have all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers have risen. There is less abortion, a lower divorce rate, higher educational scores and the high school dropout rate is at a 30-year low. Teens are drinking less, smoking less and having less sex.
You probably didn’t see any of this on the evening news or in your newspaper. The sky is not falling in America. Emphatically, all the news is not bad news.