It was reassuring, in the midst of Wisconsin’s labor strife, to see a New York Times/CBS News poll showing that many Americans sympathized with the workers. A majority of the people surveyed opposed weakening collective bargaining rights or cutting the pay or benefits of state workers to reduce state budget deficits.
It was very telling, however, to see where that sympathy dropped off. The richest Americans, it turns out, are the ones who are most eager to slash away:
Although cutting the pay or benefits of public workers was opposed by people in all income groups, it had the most support from people earning over $100,000 a year. In that income group, 45 percent said they favored cutting pay or benefits, while 49 percent opposed it. In every other income group, a majority opposed cutting pay or benefits: Among those making between $15,000 and $30,000, for instance, 35 percent said they favored cutting pay or benefits, while 60 percent opposed it.
That’s right, a solid majority of people making only $15,000 to $30,000 a year—that’s near or below the poverty line for many households—still mustered compassion for the public workers’ cause, while the biggest earners were much more eager to roll over the workers because times are tight.
The poll hearkens back to other surveys that have shown lower-income people give a greater proportion of their income to charity, and to a study done last summer by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California in Berkeley, showing that poor people are in general more altruistic than rich people.
Could it be that the rich, unsatisfied with simply always getting richer, are now getting meaner?