Former presidential candidate John Edwards famously described the country as split into two Americas – "One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants." This could not be more accurate. Today there are Two Americas: the one that is struggling to get by and the other that resides inside the beltway.
Beltway America is faring quite well during the Great Recession.
A recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics found that while the personal wealth of the American citizen has plummeted, the collective personal wealth of congressional members rose by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009, with more than half of all members (261) millionaires.
While 8.3 million jobs have been lost in America since the onset of the recession, only 35,000 jobs were lost in the Washington, DC metropolis area. The DC metro area not only saw those jobs recovered in August 2009, but added 20,000 additional ones.
While the national jobless rate is near 10 percent, the jobless rate in the D.C. metropolis is about 6 percent.
Pay in Beltway America is sublime. Federal employee compensation and benefits average $123,049, double their counterparts in the private-sector with an average compensation of $61,051. The majority of Beltway America's workforce also enjoy solid job security.
Meanwhile, in the Rest of America, the state of the economy has left its citizens pessimistic, scared and beset by a nagging uncertainty of when, or even if, they will ever recover their losses. While Beltway America experts claim that the worst of the recession is over, those in the Rest of America are simply not feeling it.
Exit polls in the last election showed a third of these Americans had someone in their household recently lose their job. In June, the Pew Research Center reported 55 percent of Americans in the workforce have either experienced a bout of unemployment, a pay cut, reduced hours or being forced into part-time work since the recession began.
A July opinion poll conducted for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards found that two out of three of these Americans (65 percent) are more concerned about their financial situation today than two years ago. According to the November exit polls, 40 percent of them said they were worse off financially than two years ago. Ninety percent of them were apprehensive about the direction of the economy. Half were "very worried."
A CareerBuilder survey conducted in May showed 77 percent of the Rest of America live paycheck to paycheck. A record number of them (40.8 million) are using food stamps - a 55 percent increase from December 2007. Thirty-six percent of them who are seeking assistance from food banks have one employed adult in the household.
A July Met Life poll found that 69 percent of the Rest of America did not feel they had a sufficient safety net and 55 percent feared losing their job. CareerBuilder reported one in five have missed payments on their bills.
Today one in seven Americans (44 million) and one in five children live below the poverty line - the largest since the Census Bureau started tracking poverty in the United States.
Why the disparity between the two Americas? Washington Times' Patrice Hill reported "A $700 billion bank bailout and $814 billion economic stimulus bill helped push the federal deficit to unprecedented levels of more than $1.3 trillion in the past two years, and a disproportionate share of that tidal wave of money washed up right back in Washington." All paid for by taxpayers from the Rest of America.
While those in Beltway America enjoy the parties, perks and privileges, they become increasingly disconnected from the other America for whom they work and represent. Aside from visiting a soup kitchen in their local districts for a photo-op, it is difficult for Beltway politicians to empathize with the Rest of America. They can speak about jobs, but how can they identify with the real hardships of unemployment, much less a cut in pay when very few of them have ever experienced a job loss? The average term for a United States Senator is 14 years, enough to ride out at least two recessions unscathed and prepare for a posh lobbying career once leaving the Senate.
The race for 2012 has already begun and hard economic times leave little tolerance by the Rest of America for tone deaf politicians. In this technological age where blackberries bloom throughout the political halls of Congress, there is no excuse for those nestled inside the Great Wall of the Capitol not to become in touch and engaged with the Rest of America. Recognizing their pain is the first step.
You Can Participate
What past elections prove is that the key to political success is understanding what the voters REALLY want. The race for 2012 has already begun and hard economic times leave little Voter tolerance for tone deaf politicians. If a Representative does not "Feel the Voter's pain" they will feel pain from the Voters come the next election. There are countless poles, studies, think tanks and groups that present interpretations of the mood or pulse of the country. But generic polls and nationwide trends are meaningless to a Representative who has a constituency to whom they must answer. All elections are local, therefore the consensus of their constituents is the Holy Grail if a Candidate for a Representative is to be successful. Facebook, Twitter, email and advertising all work to get the Representative's message OUT, but how does the Representative get meaningful information BACK without an expensive and manpower intensive effort of sorting through thousands of letters and emails, conducting expensive polls, attending countless "Town Hall" meetings and "meet and greets". Why can't we use technology to quickly find the consensus on any topic in near real time? What if, when you received a comment or opinion from a constituent, you could also know what percentage of your Voters agree with them? What if you could send targeted messages to a group of voters that share a common opinion about a given topic or issue? What if you could only work with the Voters in your district and shut out the noise from operatives in other Districts or States?
Brent Regan, is the Inventor and Developer of "VoxVerus", a social networking system designed to promote communication between voters and their elected officials. The technology for doing this has arrived. Thousands have already benefited. Better than Facebook, easy as email, Vox Verus is the first communication technology designed specifically for Representative Government.The Skanner News Video: Vox Verus