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Friday, February 10, 2012

First they blamed the black people, and I said nothing because I was not black...
Posted by Jill | 5:36 AM
So here we are again, back where we've been so often during the last thirty years, with Republican politicians grandstanding about dirty whores who won't keep their legs closed and be nice, docile brood mares the way Jeebus intended; and about how Christians are being persecuted right here in Amurrica, oh my; and about how if everyone would just stop having sex unless they wanted babies like that nice man Rick Santorum all our societal problems would just go away. It's amazing to me that anyone still responds to this particular dogwhistle.

Black Americans, particularly the urban poor, made a convenient scapegoat for many years, and that image so deftly crafted by Republicans of the lazy, shiftless black man on the public dole lingers to this day. The reality that those urban men living in poverty found doors slammed in their faces when they tried to find employment was immaterial. "They" looked different from "us", and so it was easy to paint them as completely different, with values that were antithetical to those of the white blue-collar class that elected the worst bigots and racists in our country to higher office.

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in an apartment around the corner from the Ford automobile assembly plant in Linden, New Jersey. Ever day I'd drive past that plant on my way to my underpaid-department-manager job at Bamberger's in the Menlo Park Mall and see the assembly-line workers heading into the plant. Those workers made decent money. They too had houses in the suburbs and color TVs and their kids went to decent schools. They might not have been the brightest people in the world, and most of them were first-generation native-born Americans, but they were able to have their share of the American dream.

But over the last thirty years, that all changed. The jobs went away, and so did the opportunities. Many of these men got their kids through college, and their kids are now the parents of today's twenty-somethings. And those grandchildren of the Ford plant workers are finding a job market that has nothing for them. Some of those men had children who didn't get to college, and they're finding themeselves now retiring without the many benefits their fathers got. Their kids are having an even worse time of it, as the manufacturing jobs their grandfathers had, which gave them job security and benefits and a pension, are gone. For decades, they were told that "the blacks" were at fault for their own plight because they didn't want to work. But now, they themselves find a workplace that's closed to them. They're told that "retraining" is necessary, so they spent money they didn't have and took a tech school course to "retrain" themselves and still find no opportunities. If they're married, their marriages are suffering because their wives, if they can find work, are having to foot the entire bill for the family. They feel useless and their wives feel resentful. The kids are growing fast and need new clothes and it's hard to support a family on one meager paycheck.

And yet they have clung to the belief that if they Just Work Hard Enough, they too will be able to join the ranks of the rich someday, because they've been told that rich guys like Donald Trump and Mitt Romney got where they are because they worked harder than anyone else. It frustrates them that they're not being given the chance to even show how willing they are to work hard.

And still they vote Republican. They vote Republican because they want to believe that their plight is the fault of black people, or of the very women in the workplace who are keeping a roof over their heads because for some reason, female unemployment is less. They want to believe their plight is the fault of illegal immigrants who they think took their jobs from them by being willing to work for peanuts. They want to believe that if those hippies had just kept their mouths shut in the sixties, the world would be like it was for their grandfathers, who worked eight hours in the plant, were home at five o'clock for dinner, had steak once a week for Sunday dinner, and then retired with a full pension and paid retiree medical insurance. They want to believe that this isn't as good as it's ever going to be again. Because the dream dies hard.

For decades, Republicans have been able to play these guys by blamemongering others. But the Republicans are now preparing to nominate a guy for President who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple, but has been reduced to referring to his automobile company president / Nixon cabinet member / presidential candidate father as a humble carpenter (presumably just like supply-side Jesus...). But lo there have been rumblings in the land about income inequality as these displaced white American guys find it ever more difficult to sustain the illusion that hard work will get them a key to the country club washroom.

This must be stopped.

Herman Cain tried to stop it by suggesting that those who are not rich should blame themselves. Republicans have blamed low-income homeowners for the 2008 financial collapse and blamed the unemployed for being unemployed. The illusion must be kept at all costs.

Except that the costs are high, and now the lives of those guys whose fathers regarded the bigoted TV character Archie Bunker as a hero are finding that their own lives are starting to resemble those of the people Archie and their own fathers decried.

Krugman, NYT today:
something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.

Most of the numbers you see about income trends in America focus on households rather than individuals, which makes sense for some purposes. But when you see a modest rise in incomes for the lower tiers of the income distribution, you have to realize that all — yes, all — of this rise comes from the women, both because more women are in the paid labor force and because women’s wages aren’t as much below male wages as they used to be.

For lower-education working men, however, it has been all negative. Adjusted for inflation, entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. In 1980, 65 percent of recent high-school graduates working in the private sector had health benefits, but, by 2009, that was down to 29 percent.

So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.

One more thought: The real winner in this controversy is the distinguished sociologist William Julius Wilson.

Back in 1996, the same year Ms. Himmelfarb was lamenting our moral collapse, Mr. Wilson published “When Work Disappears: The New World of the Urban Poor,” in which he argued that much of the social disruption among African-Americans popularly attributed to collapsing values was actually caused by a lack of blue-collar jobs in urban areas. If he was right, you would expect something similar to happen if another social group — say, working-class whites — experienced a comparable loss of economic opportunity. And so it has.

Eighteen years after Charles Murray decided that black people are simply not as intelligent as white people, Murray is at it again, now branding the sons of the people who believed Murray was right in The Bell Curve as being unemployed because they are lazy.

Murray, quoted from David Frum:
Put yourself in the place of a [working-class white] man who is at the bottom of the labor market, qualified only for low-skill jobs. You may wish you could make as much as your grandfather made working on a General Motors assembly line in the 1970s. You may be depressed because you've been trying to find a job and failed. But if a job driving a delivery truck, or being a carpenter's helper, or working on a cleaning crew for an office building opens up, why would a bad labor market for blue-collar jobs keep you from taking it? As of 2009, a very bad year economically, the median hourly wage for drivers of delivery trucks was $13.84; for carpenter's helpers, $12.63; for building cleaners, $13.37. That means $505 to $554 for a forty-hour week, or $25,260 to $27,680 for a fifty-week year. Those are not great incomes, but they are enough to be able to live a decent existence - almost twice the poverty level even if you are married and your wife doesn't work. So why would you not work if a job opening landed in your lap? Why would you not work a full forty hours if the hours were available? Why not work more than forty hours?

Only someone who is paid a handsome salary by the American Enterprise Institute can say with a straight face that $27,860 is enough to live "a decent existence" when $22,350 is the federal poverty level for a family of four.

I wonder how Charles Murray would explain why it is that the wealthiest American individuals and CEOs need even more tax cuts to incentivize them to "create jobs" but low-income workers are supposed to be incentivized by ever-decreasing wages and ever-disappearing benefits.

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Blogger D. said...
Linking to and quoting from this.

Really, I'm going to get boring about history at this rate.

Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...
Please recall that the wide-waisted, puffy-faced, never-missed-a-meal right-wing "thinkers" who work for The Heritage Foundation wax on about how the poor really aren't poor because they "have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food".