Reflections on Inequality
May 19, 2011 · By Joy Zarembka
This week's edition of Unconventional Wisdom focuses on inequality among powerful men and immigrant maids, as well as working-class taxpayers and the richest people in the country.
I first came to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in 2000 to help expose the abuse of maids and nannies by IMF and World Bank employees. This week’s news about powerful men and the women who clean up after them sounds painfully familiar. As soon as we opened our doors at the Institute’s Break The Chain Campaign project, stories began pouring in from migrant women who came to the U.S. legally as household help seeking the American dream, but found themselves living a nightmare. Many were paid little or no wages, and some reported sexual, physical, or psychological abuse.
I was drawn to this work when I realized I was next-door neighbor to a young girl living in virtual slavery in suburban Maryland. Within a month of research about the scale of such abuse, I was struck by a wrenching irony: Many women come to the United States as economic migrants precisely because the programs imposed by the IMF and World Bank limit the job opportunities and safety nets in their home countries. Then, once they’re here, they may be subjected to abuse. In essence, they are assaulted twice, as IPSer Lacy MacAuley illustrates in her blog post.
Break The Chain Campaign advocacy director Tiffany Williams examines why the mainstream media seems mainly concerned with the fate of "rock star" Dominique Strauss-Kahn, while tending to ignore the suffering of his alleged victim. "Poor women’s bodies are collateral damage of war, prizes for global accomplishment, or simply a means to an end," Williams writes. They "are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal." Newspapers report that Strauss-Kahn made a "modest" $420,000 annual salary, plus pension contributions. The Fund's extremely generous benefits, the fact that IMF pay is exempt from U.S. income tax, and his wife’s reported wealth combined to facilitate a lavish lifestyle for a supposedly socialist public servant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the national median hourly wage for hotel housekeepers is $8.75. If that's what the Sofitel maid DSK allegedly attacked earned 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, it would come to $18,200 a year, about 4 percent of her alleged attacker's pay.
Such extreme inequity is emblematic. As our nation wallows in an unemployment crisis, the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of us continues to widen. Find more data, analysis, and commentary on wealth and income disparity, at inequality.org, the ground-breaking new website from our Inequality and the Common Good project. While unpacking the twisted sound bites of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and making sense of the staggering statistics featured in the "We’re Not Broke" video, IPS makes the case for the innovative, just, and simple tax reforms that could put an additional $4 trillion back in the Treasury over the next decade. You’ll also find creative approaches to shrinking the budget deficit that don’t gut Medicare.
With your heartening help, we will continue to do our utmost to make extreme inequality and its many insidious consequences a national embarrassment.
IPS Associate Director