Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tramps Like Me

In a post I did earlier this year, Why Black People get Free Stuff, I point out that it's for the same reason that white people do. I wrote:

In 2011, as a percent of the entire U.S. population, there were more blacks (35%) living in poverty than whites (13%); but by the number, there were far more whites (25,865,700) living in poverty than blacks. (12,876,400).

And when we look at people living in extreme poverty --- households making less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold --- of 20 million people who live at this alarming level, about 42 percent are white and 26 percent are black.

As of February 8, 2013, the latest data shows that 47.7 million Americans now rely on food stamps -- and 36% are white, while only 22% are black. Poverty has not just been a problem for minorities in urban neighborhoods (or those living in the rural areas of Southern states), but it is also beginning to devour what was a majority white middle-class in the suburbs as well." (See my post: Suburban Poverty off the Chart)

Since the birth of this nation, the African-American, Mexican and Chinese populations were just cheap labor for the white-dominated industrialists. But ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in 1964 (and most notably since the decline in manufacturing and unionization that began in 1979) now poverty, low wages, wealth inequality, income disparity and government entitlements have become a major issue for the white working-class as well.

Bud Meyers after first applying for food stamps in 2011

Excerpted from Tramps Like Them by Nicloas Confessore at the New York Times (February 2012): For some decades now, a popular conservative narrative of modern America has gone something like this: Our center-right nation, devout and industrious, is ruled by a politically liberal elite that disdains family, despises religion and celebrates indolence with government handouts. Many people found this story convincing. It helped fracture the postwar Democratic Party and mid-wifed the culture wars. Today it feeds the political frustrations of the Tea Party movement.

Charles Murray, the influential conservative scholar and provocateur, believes this story is wrong. In his book, Coming Apart., Murray flips the script that has energized Republican politics and campaigns since Richard Nixon: the white working class, he argues, is no longer part of a virtuous silent majority. Instead, beginning in the early 1960s, it has become increasingly alienated from what Murray calls “the founding virtues” of civic life. “Our nation is coming apart at the seams,” Murray warns — “not ethnic seams, but the seams of class.”

Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, a psychology professor at Harvard, co-authored the 1994 book The Bell Curve. The Chicago Tribune summarized some of that book’s key findings:

"Intelligence will be the decisive dividing force of the 21st century, as smart people get the best educations and best jobs, earn the most money, marry each other, produce bright children and cluster together into a cognitive elite. Those with markedly below-average intelligence will be left in a growing underclass, likely to drop out of school and hold routine jobs or none at all. Their children will be born into inadequate, high-risk homes, often with single parents, and destined by their low IQ to remain stuck in poverty."

Excerpted from What to Do About ‘Coming Apart’ by Thomas B. Edsall at the New York Times in February 2012: In 2005 Charles Murray previewed what would come to be the central preoccupation of his book Coming Apart. "When the late Richard Herrnstein and I published The Bell Curve eleven years ago, the furor over its discussion of ethnic differences in IQ was so intense that most people who have not read the book still think it was about race." (It was about class.)

Murray’s concern about the “white underclass” was evident as long ago as 1986, when he published White Welfare, White Families, White Trash in the National Review. The Washington Post summarized Murray’s concerns that year:

"Just when we are starting to come to grips with the special problems of the black underclass; just when middle-class blacks especially are groping for explanations and remedies for the special problems, along comes Charles Murray to tell us that the problems are neither all that special nor all that black. The problem, he says, is not race but class. And though it affects blacks disproportionately, it is affecting whites at a growing rate. For instance, the illegitimacy rate among American whites today is roughly what it was among blacks 20 years ago."
Murray contends in Coming Apart that there was far greater social cohesion across class lines 50 years ago because the powerful norms of social and economic behavior in 1960 swept virtually everyone into their embrace.

From a January 21 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal The New American Divide he writes, "Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions."

According to Murray, higher education has now become a proxy for higher IQ, as elite colleges become sorting mechanisms for finding, training and introducing to each other the most intellectually gifted young people. Fifty years into the education revolution, members of this elite are likely to be themselves the offspring of cognitively gifted parents, and to ultimately bear cognitively gifted children.

Recently gathered data by Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University and the Russell Sage Foundation demonstrates that while the education gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

Murray makes the case that cognitive ability is worth ever more in modern advanced, technologically complex hyper-competitive market economies. As an example, Murray quotes Bill Gates: “Software is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war or we won’t have a future.”

Coming Apart, with its emphasis on the demoralization of white working-class America, has received both exuberant praise and brutal criticism. Despite his emphasis on morale, Murray demonstrates an insensitivity to the psychologically debilitating effects of the disappearance of decent-paying manufacturing and production jobs for those who are not college-educated, and the painful sense of status dislocation that haunts those who are cast off. He makes almost no reference to the past 40 years of de-industrialization or globalization. He does write that “insofar as men need to work to survive — an important proviso — falling hourly income does not discourage work.”

Murray seems unaware of the anger and resentment that is part of the lives of men (and women) stuck in menial jobs, laid off with caprice on the part of management, and offhandedly described in the media as “living on savings.”

Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for United States foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues in a three part series (one, two, three):

"The changes in the world economy may be destructive in terms of the old social model, but they are profoundly liberating and benign in and of themselves. The family farm wasn’t dying because capitalism had failed or a Malthusian crisis was driving the world to starvation. The family farm died of abundance; it died of the rapidly rising productivity that meant that fewer and fewer people had to work to produce the food on which humanity depended."

Revolutions in manufacturing and, above all, in communications and information technology create the potential for unprecedented abundance and a further liberation of humanity from meaningless and repetitive work. Our problem isn’t that the sources of prosperity have dried up in a long drought; our problem is that we don’t know how to swim. It is raining soup, and we are stuck holding a fork.

The 21st century must reinvent the American Dream. It must recast our economic, social, familial, educational and political systems for new challenges and new opportunities. Some hallowed practices and institutions will have to go under the bus. But in the end, the changes will make us richer, more free and more secure than we are now."

Excerpted from Our Broken Social Contract by Thomas B. Edsall for the New York Times (June 2013): Alan Krueger, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, has argued that the uncritical worship of the free market in the 1980s allowed the nation’s corporate elite to abandon longstanding constraints in its treatment of labor, especially in shifting the rewards of rising productivity from employees to the owners of capital. With the blessing of the new right, Krueger argues, corporate America has abandoned its commitment to the commonweal over the past three decades. It no longer honors norms of fairness and equality.

In 2006, writing on his blog, Mankiw tackled the factors behind the decline of unions, which once exerted countervailing pressures on corporate giants: "One is globalization. As the economy becomes more open, firms are increasingly operating in competitive markets. This means they have less economic profit that could be a target for unions."

In a 2013 paper, Defending the One Percent, Mankiw argues that "changes in technology have allowed a small number of highly educated and exceptionally talented individuals to command superstar incomes in ways that were not possible a generation ago."

The Obama administration acknowledged America’s uphill struggle to bring norms of fairness back into the business culture. If these trends continue, and most evidence suggests they will, one of the central ironies of the Obama years will be that a Democratic administration committed to pushing back against the unjust distribution of resources and to the promotion of morally cohesive communities will in fact have overseen an eight-year period of social disintegration, inequality and rising self-preoccupation.

ALSO: Read this article: How we Ignore Poverty and Blame Poor People

As I've noted (as of July 2013): Out of a U.S. population of 316, 207,202 --- 245,552,000 are of working age (16 and older) and of those, only 144,058,000 are employed --- and only 102,912,000 of those work-full-time (over 35 hours a week). 27.2 million have part-time jobs. Most jobs recently created have be low-wage temp and/or part-time jobs.

Dean Baker in the Huffington Post today: "Currently the U.S. economy is close to 9 million jobs below its trend level of employment....In 2006, 4 million people fell into this involuntary part-time category. Currently the number is close to 8 million...The economic mismanagement of the last decade has not only denied tens of millions of workers jobs, it has forced down the wages of tens of millions more workers...Not only has the heavy hand of the government directly transferred trillions of dollars to those at the top, it has deprived tens of millions of others of the ability to earn a decent living in the economy... The rich can tell them if they want to be able to eat, or let their kids have food to eat, then they will have to work at bad jobs at low wages."

Can we do anything about it? Maybe.

* I would suggest that you read through all the New York Times articles I cited and read the Walter Russell Mead series. This post was just a short abbreviation of a much bigger story.

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