Here's the sad truth about the so-called "economic recovery" that began in June 2009: For a large number of Americans, it simply doesn't exist.
As the stock market made giant gains and corporate profits hit record highs, the median income in America has only declined further. African-Americans got hit hardest of all: While median income overall has dropped about 4 percent since 2009, for blacks, it plummeted by 10.9 percent.
In other words, the recession isn't over for most Americans. This speaks to the fundamental economic injustice that inspired the Occupy Wall Street protests two years ago, and President Obama's central argument today: Widening income inequality is the challenge of our time and should be the issue that shapes the 2016 election.
What we really need now is vigorous government efforts to create jobs. Instead of slashing public programs, we must invest in middle-class Americans in order to rekindle the demand that creates and grows jobs. That means raising taxes on the rich and applying more funding to areas such as infrastructure, research and education.
Leading Republicans say they're against tax hikes because they hinder job creation. But there is more to it. Taxes help contain the debt and allow the government to make investments that strengthen the economy, such as spending on infrastructure, research and education. The truth is that economic growth has been stronger during periods of higher tax rates on top earners.
And the self-serving argument that the prosperity of so-called "job creators" will somehow trickle down to the average American is just as baseless. The richest Americans save more of their earnings than others do and will never spend enough to make up for the tens of millions of Americans who remain unemployed or underemployed and the effect of stagnant and declining wages.
Consider these numbers: In recent decades, the incomes of the wealthiest 400 Americans grew five times larger, as their tax rates declined by nearly half. And CEO pay grew 127 times faster over the past three decades than the pay of the average worker.
Unless we take real steps to reverse these trends, for most people, "economic recovery" will remain out of reach.
Copyright The Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. Distributed by the Associated Press.