Unemployment is hovering stubbornly around 9 percent, prompting Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to declare a "national crisis" and Hallmark to release its first-ever line of layoff greeting cards. (One features an angry Persian cat offering to cough up a hairball on your ex-employer. Another depicts cartoon animals slouching toward the "unemployment office.")
The gulf between rich and poor is at its widest since the 1920s, and the wealthiest 1 percent of American households now take in more than 20 percent of total US income, a figure that's doubled in the past three decades. Over the same time period, marginal income tax rates on top earners dropped from 70 percent to 35 percent.
"It's become a moral issue rather than just an economic one," Robert Reich, the former Labor secretary and liberal political economist, says of taxation. "Most people in this country are flat on their backs economically. It's the worst economy since the Great Depression. We have a huge budget deficit that's getting worse."
"If the rich don't pay their fair share, then everyone else has to either pay more taxes or go without the public services they need," he adds.
Mr. Reich isn't alone in that belief. More than three-quarters of Americans support progressively increasing federal income taxes for households that earn at least $1 million annually, according to a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll taken last month. And 64 percent favor increases for households earning at least $250,000 a year.