The lottery and social despair in America
9 January 2015
This mania, so generally condemned, has never been properly studied. No one has realized that it is the opium of the poor. Did not the lottery, the mightiest fairy in the world, work up magical hopes? The roll of the roulette wheel that made the gamblers glimpse masses of gold and delights did not last longer than a lightning flash; whereas the lottery spread the magnificent blaze of lightning over five whole days. Where is the social force today that, for forty sous, can make you happy for five days and bestow on you—at least in fancy—all the delights that civilization holds?The jackpot in the US Powerball lottery has hit $800 million, since there were no winners in Wednesday’s drawing. In the current round, which began on December 2, over 431 million tickets have been sold, a figure substantially larger than America’s population.
Balzac, La Rabouilleuse, 1842
Go into any corner store in America and you will see workers of every age and race waiting in line to buy lottery tickets. With the current round, the lines are longer than ever. Americans spend over $70 billion on lottery tickets each year. In West Virginia, America’s second-poorest state, the average person spent $658.46 on lottery tickets last year.
Powerball players pick six random numbers when they purchase their tickets, with a certain percentage of sales going to the jackpot. If no winning ticket is sold, the jackpot rolls over to the next round.
The totals for the Mega Millions and Powerball national lotteries have been growing every year. This year’s jackpot has eclipsed 2012’s record of $656.5 million, the $390 million payout in 2007 and the $363 million prize in 2000. The jackpots have grown in direct proportion to ticket sales.
State-run gambling programs such as Powerball have been promoted by Democrats and Republicans alike as a solution to state budget shortfalls, even as the politicians slash taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and gut social programs. From the standpoint of government revenue, lotteries and casinos are nothing more than a back-door regressive tax, soaking up money from the poor in proportion to the growth of social misery.
The boom in lotteries is global. Lottery sales grew 9.9 percent worldwide in 2014, after growing 4.9 percent in 2013.
Psychology Professor Kate Sweeny has noted that lottery sales grow when people feel a lack of control over their lives, particularly over their economic condition. “That feeling of self-control is very important to psychological well-being,” Sweeny says.
There is ample reason for American workers to feel they have no control over their lives. According a recent survey by Bankrate.com, more than half of Americans do not have enough cash to cover an unexpected expense of $500 or more—roughly the price of four name-brand tires.
Some 62 percent of Americans have savings of less than $1,000, and 21 percent do not have any savings at all. Most Americans are one medical emergency or one spell of unemployment from financial ruin.
For all the talk about “economic recovery” by the White House, the real financial state of most American households is far worse than before the 2008 financial crisis and recession. As of 2013, Americans were almost 40 percent poorer than they were in 2007, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. While a large portion of the decline in household wealth is attributable to the collapse of the housing bubble, falling wages and chronic mass unemployment have played major roles.
The yearly income of a typical US household dropped by a massive 12 percent, or $6,400, in the six years between 2007 and 2013, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest survey of consumer finances. A large share of this decline has taken place during the so-called recovery presided over by the Obama administration.
In addition to becoming poorer, America has become much more economically polarized. According to a separate Pew survey, for the first time in more than four decades “middle-income households” no longer constitute the majority of American society. Instead, the majority of households are either low- or high-income. Pew called its findings “a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point” in American society.
“Is the lottery the new American dream?” asked USA Today, commenting on this month’s Powerball jackpot. The observation is truer than the authors intended. For American workers, achieving the “American Dream” of a stable job and one’s own home is becoming increasingly unrealizable.
Following more than 10 million foreclosures during the financial crisis, America’s home ownership rate has hit the lowest level in two decades, and for young households, the rate of home ownership is the lowest it has been since the 1960s.
For the tens of millions of America’s poor, and the more than 100 million on the threshold of poverty, the dream of winning the lottery has replaced the “American Dream” of living a decent life. A lottery ticket is a chance to escape to a fantasy world where money is not a constant, nagging worry, where one is not insulted and bullied at a low-wage job by bosses whose pay is matched only by their incompetence. The lottery is, as Balzac aptly described it, the “opium of the poor.”
Using the same phrase to describe religion, Marx noted that the “illusory happiness of the people” provided by the solace of religion is, in fact, a silent protest and distorted “demand for their real happiness.” It is the intolerable social conditions that compel masses of people to seek consolation in a lottery ticket that will propel them into revolutionary struggles.
Survey finds a majority of Americans unable to pay for major unexpected expenses
Survey finds a majority of Americans unable to pay for major unexpected expenses
A new survey put out by the personal finance management site
Bankrate.com on Wednesday found that more than half of Americans could
not weather a sudden financial crisis without having to borrow money
from friends and family or being forced to reduce the amount spent on
other items such as dining out, paying cable or cell phone bills, or
other basic features of a “middle class” lifestyle.
9 January 2016
The survey, conducted last month among a pool of 1,000 Americans in conjunction with Princeton Survey Research Associates International, found that only 37 percent of those surveyed would be able to pay an emergency expense of $1,000, such as an emergency room visit or the cost of repairing a broken down vehicle, out of pocket.
Sixty-three percent of those surveyed would not be able to cover such a sudden expense without either cutting down on expenses elsewhere, borrowing or resorting to credit. The survey found that nearly four in 10 Americans had suffered such a financial setback in 2015.
“Without an adequate rainy-day fund, we are all living on a very slippery financial slope,” Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling told Bankrate.com. “The unexpected, unplanned expense is going to rear its ugly head and usually at the most inopportune time…Things as small as a flat tire or one trip to the emergency room can wreck the budgets of those who do not have an adequate amount in their savings account,” she said.
For Americans making less than $30,000 per year, only 23 percent would be able to cover such a sudden expense on their own. This was contrasted by nearly 60 percent of those making over $75,000 annually who could say the same. Nine percent making $30,000 or below stated that they did not know how they would cover such expenses, meaning that they were one expensive setback away from personal financial ruin.
The poll comes amid a slew of other reports detailing an immense drop in the living standards of a significant section of the US population, a component of the growth of social inequality more broadly.
Since the 2008 financial collapse and the subsequent economic “recovery” in 2009, 95 percent of all wealth gains have gone to the top 1 percent in society. A report released in November by the St. Louis Federal Reserve showed that Americans’ personal savings in 2015 were half of what the average was in the early 1980s.
A US Federal Reserve report released in 2014 found that nearly six in 10 Americans had lost all or part of their savings due to the financial impact of the 2008 economic crisis, while a 2015 study by GOBankingrates.com revealed that the majority of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings to their name. A report released the Pew Research firm last month revealed that the number of middle-income homes as a portion of the population had largely vanished in the span of a few decades.
The figures come as the US Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates for banks and other financial institutions, which will likely lead to further difficulty for individuals who rely upon credit in order to finance their costs of living.
The expenses eating away at the typical individual’s savings read like essential items for living in modern society. According to Bankrate.com, the largest expense for one-third of all Americans outside of food and shelter consisted of utilities such as water, electricity or phone service. For those over the age of 50, one in five cited medical bills as their largest co