Not too long ago, Republicans were touting the great economic news that showed that the unemployment rate had hit a 50-year low, dropping to 3.5% nationally. In August, Alabama was even lower at 3.1%, but folks aren’t exactly throwing spontaneous celebrations to celebrate their newfound economic windfalls, nor are they feeling any closer to realizing the ubiquitous American Dream. That’s because wages continue to remain fairly stagnant and, in places like Alabama, wealth disparity is increasing and accelerating.

The rich are getting exponentially richer, the poor keep getting poorer (as their safety net vanishes), and the middle-class is watching every spare penny get squeezed from them. That’s because wealth disparity has hit a 50-year high, too.

Now, it’s true that there have been huge corporate investments and new jobs pouring into Alabama’s urban centers, like Huntsville and Mobile. However, rural areas are still struggling economically and wealth inequality continues to grow at an alarming pace.

AL Republicans continue to push for lower taxes for the wealthy, while simultaneously burdening the middle-class and poor with more fees and other revenue-raising schemes that are called everything but that obscene pejorative-“tax”. They do that so they can say they didn’t raise taxes with a straight face, while they do exactly that, but call it something else. They’ve done this so much, that one could say that AL Republicans have become pioneering experts in a new field called “Economic Gaslighting.”

Inexplicably, Republicans think that really rich folks and poor folks should pay the same amount in taxes. So, they came up with a scheme called the “Fair Tax”. They love this charlatan ploy because they know it would shift even more of the tax burden from the wealthy (aka-campaign donors and lobbyists) onto the middle-class and poor. The ‘fair tax” isn’t even close to fair and, if implemented, it would have devastating effects on Alabamians who grapple with just trying to make ends meet. It’s kind of like how the phrase “Right to Work” really means, “The Right to Get Fired for No Reason” or “The Right to Be on Your Own When Negotiating Reasonable Wages and Benefits.”

Alabama struggles because it insists on giving so many tax breaks and shelters to rich folks who already have more money than they know what to do with. Look at how Alabama defines and taxes timberland, for example. Look at how Alabama burdens struggling families with a grocery tax. Look how the state has limited unemployment benefits, food stamps, and government assistance for those who desperately need it. Alabama’s whole system is designed to help the wealthiest at the expense of the middle-class and poor.

Republicans continue to promote the myth of the “Welfare Queen” and the idea that people who need help only want a “free ride” at taxpayer expense. It is simply not true. Unfortunately, the disingenuous propaganda and rhetoric spewed by Republicans have been highly effective, as they have capitalized on the resentment of struggling people by telling them that some folks are unfairly gaming the system. Well, that may only work for a little while longer as wealth disparity finally becomes untenable.

It’s time for Alabamians to realize that they’re getting played by the Republicans and their fat-cat donor friends. They’re laughing all the way to the bank, while regular, hard-working folks are working two and three jobs so they can pay their electric bill and rent.

Yeah, it’s been some great economic news lately for some, but more Alabamians seem to be working harder than ever, with less to show for it. It might be time to consider that the Democrats didn’t vote to limit unemployment and have worked hard to repeal the grocery tax. Democrats also know that the only fair tax is one where the rich actually pay their fair share.

As long as the Republicans maintain a supermajority in the Alabama Legislature, wealth disparity will continue to grow and fester. They’re hoping you’ll be so broke, you can’t even pay attention.

Clete Wetli
Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.