Follow-Up on Our Working Class Politics Meeting

I wanted to follow-up on last night’s meeting because it went in a different direction than I intended with the topic.  That’s always okay, of course.  Maybe it was my fault.  I emphasized the “class” part of “working class” (their sad financial plight), not the “working” part.

The working class is not synonymous with the underclass or the poor, and, IMO, their main problem is not a “dependence” on the industrialized world’s most threadbare social safety net.  You may disagree, and discussing what to do about the “underclass” and the very poorest among us might be an interesting topic.  I believe the measly amount we spend on alleviating poverty is a much bigger hindrance to people being able to escape it than is any inferior cultural values or (sigh) “dependence” on the dole.  (Another issue would be why we so seldom condemn the cultural values of people who make a good living.  Do we unconsciously equate wealth with virtue and poverty with vice?  But I digress.)   I believe that dysfunctional culture among a segment of the poor is more a cause of the economy leaving them behind than them choosing to stay behind.  But, maybe if we did debate this, I’d learn something to change my mind.

Regardless, my idea for yesterday was to talk about how hard it is for working people to get ahead or even stay afloat in the richest country in the world in the 21st century, plus what we might do about it.  Again, most people in our working class (however defined), well, work.  And, damned hard, too, when they can get it and at the best jobs available to them, given their education, training, and the economic niche they inhabit.  Moreover, as Aaron pointed out, the lower-middle class, if you prefer the term to working class — say, the 20th – 40th percentile of us by income — has been slowly sliding downward over the decades as the economy has shifted under their feet.  Forget the poverty level.  Most accounts I’ve read say that trying to live off of even 150% or 200% of the poverty level is not enough to save money, invest in a business or your children, pay for good health insurance, and access the American dream as most of us understand it.  One-half of U.S. adults reported that they lived paycheck to paycheck (meaning they work), and this was before the Great Recession.   Since then, unemployment has been 7%-10% for coming up on half a decade.  Household wealth has collapsed *(by 40% since 2007).  College tuition costs have skyrocketed.  Governments have slashed over 750,000 jobs and spending on basic social services.  I could go on and on.

My idea of the topic was to debate how our politics and public policies might be different if they focused on providing more opportunities to these people.  This is a tall order.  Right and Left agree that only the private economy can generate enough good jobs in a sustainable way so as to lift so many people up to the middle class and keep them there.  But, they totally disagree on how to restart that kind of growth and on what supports working people need to help them to share in the proceeds.  As my links suggested, conservatives believe that tax cuts, deregulation, and reduced social spending are the answer, and liberals believe we need to rebuild the social supports that working people used to have.

Anyway, am I wrong about our discussion?  Did I hear only what I wanted to hear?  Please tell me in comments and, if you want, read these links that explain some recent developments that, at least to me, show how our society is still heading in the wrong direction.


3 responses

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    OF COURSE there is an equation of wealth with virtue and poverty with vice in the minds of our Republican friends, even if unconscious. And who can doubt that if they are poor, it’s their own fault. Besides, they are lazy, ignorant, irresponsible etc. Not like the virtuous Republicans, such as Bishop Romney.
    There may be those who escape this stereotype, but the majority do not.

  2. This is not juts a GOP view. All of us equate success with virtue to some extent (celebrtiy worship, master of the universe, etc.). It seems to be hard wired, or something. I think equating poverty with vice is very common, too, except, perhaps, in really hard economic times. It really wasn’t THAT bad a mtg; I was just a little bugged by this one aspect. Jim, we all wish you could attend more mtgs these days!

  3. BTW, we also talked about how teen birth rates have fallen. See this.

    It says out-of-wedlock teen births have fallen 50% since 1991, and that almost all of the increase is from increased contraceptive use, not less teen sex Hmmm. Could this suggest that what teens really want is to have is sex, not babies, and that out-of-wedlock births are a result of irresponsibility, not deliberate strategies to get welfare benefits, as was stated at our mtg?

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