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Class Warfare

I started listening to the state of the union address last night, which I thought was one of President Obama’s better speeches.

But I lost my concentration some distance into the speech, when the president was talking about fairness. He said, “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay as least as much as his secretary in taxes?

“Most Americans would call that common sense.” he added. That got me thinking about two very different news stories in Michigan yesterday. The Michigan League for Human Services released its annual “Kids Count” report, which chronicles how children, especially poor children, are doing in our state.

The report showed that 11 percent of our children live not only in poverty but extreme poverty, more than twice as many as ten years ago. Extreme poverty, by the way, is a single parent and two kids struggling to get by on less than $740 a month. The figures are worse here than the national average.

They are especially bad for children under 5, and for African-American children. Their poverty rate was triple that of white non-Hispanic kids. Things weren’t good for Hispanic children either; one out of every three of them were living in poverty.

There are lots more mind-numbing figures that I won’t burden you with, though I have to mention two. Child poverty grew fastest of all in three of the state’s most affluent counties, solidly Republican Ottawa, Livingston and Oakland Counties.

Child poverty was worst of all not in Detroit, but in tiny, mostly white Lake County in northwest lower Michigan. But the statistic that haunted me the most was that more than one in four of our children suffer from untreated dental disease, including, and I quote, “dental decay and pain that cause difficulty chewing, concentrating, sleeping and speaking.”  Think about that on your drive home tonight.

Yesterday was the first day this information was available to the public, but it was drowned out by another story most media found far more significant. The Detroit Tigers paid $214 million to sign a player named Prince Fielder to a nine-year-contract.

Fielder, a heavyset man, doesn’t run or field especially well, but he hits a lot of home runs. His father, Cecil, was also a player for the Tigers 20 years ago, but he never made more than $5 or $6 million a year.

The Tigers now have three players who make more than $20 million a year, and there is sort of a rough racial justice here; one of these players is white, one Hispanic and one black. Fielder’s total contract is far more than Michigan saved, by the way, when it took welfare payments away from 30,000 kids last fall. It’s also more than the state saved by breaking its promise and canceling all those Michigan Promise college scholarships.

Now, I know some will say this is an outrageous comparison, and that I have no right to criticize the workings of the sacred marketplace.  But guess what; I am. I think the fact that we are utterly thrilled about paying this much to a ballplayer while we mostly ignore poor kids with rotting teeth, is obscene.

Actually, it is intolerable. And if that’s class warfare, I say, let’s make the most of it. 

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