(Promoted from the comments. This is from DJ, who has lived in third world countries for extended periods of time)
If we truly looked at the class structure of the economy, we would find that the vast majority of Americans are royalty. Our median income is more than 50 times the world median income. We burn more energy per capita than any other major country, five times the world average, and contribute accordingly to the world environmental crisis. We see it as a right to have two cars in the driveway of our 4,000 square foot home with all the appropriate electronics. And our military stalks the world protecting our supplies of artificially cheap petroleum to make it all possible. Poverty here means the government helps you pay for your telephone, while most people in the world don’t even have access to a telephone.
And we maintain this obscenely decadent lisestyle by exploiting the working poor across the world.
“Oh, no, I would never do that!! It’s the big, bad, multinational corporations!” But if you shop at Wal-Mart, have a television in your home, own a shoe or article of clothing made outside the U.S. or Europe, drive a vehicle that gets less than 70 mpg, or hold large-cap stocks in your IRA, you are complicit. No, I’m not an exception– I’ve made progress, but I can’t get off the back of the poor. It’s just too easy to live in excess.
No wonder we don’t like to talk about class: If we’re looking for the enemy of the world’s working class, we are it. Sure, we have problems. But compared to the billions who won’t get enough to eat today because they don’t earn enough to pay for the rising cost of food, we really don’t.
It’s about class, and nothing more.
But maybe there is a clue to be found in exactly who is getting those unemployment benefits. Robert Frank had an interesting column in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago breaking down the unemployment statistics by class background.
According to a study from Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Studies, unemployment for those in the top income decile — individuals earning more than $150,000 a year — was 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. That compares with unemployment of 31 percent for the bottom 10 percent of income, and unemployment of 9 percent for the middle decile.
Thirty-one percent! The poor are getting absolutely destroyed by the economic downturn, while the rich skate by. Who do you think the critics of unemployment benefits are pitching their message to?
Joe Bageant on race, class, and poverty in the US.
There’s a bizarre conceit in the US that we are somehow classless. Bageant knows that’s not true, and wrote about it in Deer Hunting With Jesus, which explores his redneck roots and the small Virginia town he grew up in and where he moved back to for a while. The white underclass gets exploited by politicians, shafted by most everyone, and studiously ignored by the far left, too many of whom appear to think that only people of color can be genuinely exploited and that poor whites just aren’t, y’know, worthy of being organized. Bageant doesn’t make that mistake. Among the reasons, they are his tribe. And he is an astute observer about race and class.
For all practical purposes and to most Americans, regardless of race, the term “middle class” means “white.” Plain and simple. We all know that, even members of the “black middle class.”
I can see that social scientists dislike plural nouns, and thus shun the word losers. So they call this the “educational underclass.” Either way, it comes down to folks too wooly and uncurried for office water cooler society. Nobody is denying that they all should have jobs, of course, just nowhere near the water cooler.
The unwed mothers come in two varieties. There are those who decide they want children, but are choosy about the husband that traditionally comes with the deal. And there are those who are so young and naÃ¯ve due to cultural circumstance and environment they do not know what this country does to, not for, single mothers
Armchair sociologist that I am, I have a theory about this: Millions of American women are in poverty because they are paid poverty wages. I could be wrong, I often am, but there seems to be a connection between poverty and money. I started developing this theory last year when I was in a Melbourne, Australia hotel and learned from a single mother hotel housekeeper there that she made $19 an hour, had government assisted childcare and was going to college at night toward becoming a medical technician. Hmmm”¦ Over here we tell single mothers, “Get a six dollar an hour job or get married bitch! Workfare, baby, workfare.”
Believe me from personal experience, a Southern accent in America is no ticket to the top. But even with a Southern accent, if you talk like a college grad, don’t wear bib overhauls or gang banger gear, and appear to know where South America is on a map, Americans will deem you middle class.
America needs to have a good discussion about class.