Posts Tagged ‘academy’

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Special mention

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incarceration

Neil Irwin, Claire Cain Miller, and Margot Sanger-Katz have assembled a series of charts documenting America’s enduring—and, in many cases, growing—racial divide. I have reproduced some of them below.

One of the key pieces of information they don’t include has to do with incarceration rates. As you can see from the chart above (from the Pew Research Center [pdf]), African American men were 5 times more likely to be incarcerated in 1960 than white men (relative to the size of each demographic group)—a rate that grew to over 16.5 in 2010.

Here are the other charts:

joblessness

unemployment

higher education

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homicide

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Recent legal decisions—such as the NLRB’s ruling that Northwestern University’s football players are employees of the school and are therefore entitled to a union election, and U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling on the so-called O’Bannon case, which will enable football and men’s basketball players to receive more from schools than they are receiving now—have raised lots of important questions about how we look at and compensate the work performed by student-athletes in American colleges and universities.

One of the most interesting issues has to do with unpaid labor. Here’s the New York Times editorial board on the O’Bannon ruling:

The N.C.A.A. and its member institutions have no one to blame but themselves for any unintended negative consequences. They built a lucrative commercial enterprise that depended in large part on unpaid labor. Now they have to move forward without exploiting the very students they have always purported to protect.

That’s right: U.S. colleges and universities have been producing and selling athletic performances—especially, but not only, football and basketball games—that are produced by student-athletes who are not paid for their labor. The players do receive some compensation, such as tuition and room and board (and, on the O’Bannon ruling, will be permitted to receive money to defray some additional costs of attending school) but they are not being paid for the total value they produce for the schools they attend. Therefore, the players are performing unpaid labor.*

But why stop there? It may be easier to see unpaid labor when workers, such as student-athletes, receive absolutely no pay—and their employers are raking in huge sums of money from the work they perform. But why not then identify and do something about all the other forms of unpaid labor being performed in our economy? I’m thinking, for example, of autoworkers, restaurant employees, nurses, daycare workers, and so on, all of whom receive wages but wages that are much less than the total value they produce. They, too, are performing unpaid labor, which is then appropriated by their employers and serves as the source of the enterprises’ profits. 

No amount of tinkering with workers’ compensation—whether in the form of establishing a trust fund for student-athletes or raising minimum wages or increasing wages through market pressure or collective bargaining—will ultimately eliminate that unpaid labor. It may diminish it, by changing the ratio of unpaid to paid labor, but vast amounts of unpaid labor will continue to exist.

And that’s the problem that needs to be solved, both on American campuses and in the wider economy.

*In Marxian terms, the players are productive laborers and, by virtue of creating surplus-value, are being exploited by their capitalist employers, the boards of trustees of the colleges and universities where they work. Much of that extra value is retained by the athletic departments (which is then used to pay head coaches, their coaching staffs, and to build new, start-of-the-art athletic facilities), and another large portion is distributed to the NCAA. Hence, the opposition of the schools, coaches, and the NCAA to any measure that increases the bargaining power of the student-athlete-workers.

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Special mention

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As we know, rising inequality, especially the hollowing-out of the middle, has undermined the financial viability of retailers and other merchants of consumption that, during the postwar period, catered to the middle-class—and boosted the prospects of particular lines and whole businesses that target those at the tiny top and growing bottom of the distribution of income. As the New York Times reported in February,

In Manhattan, the upscale clothing retailer Barneys will replace the bankrupt discounter Loehmann’s, whose Chelsea store closes in a few weeks. Across the country, Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants are struggling, while fine-dining chains like Capital Grille are thriving. And at General Electric, the increase in demand for high-end dishwashers and refrigerators dwarfs sales growth of mass-market models. . .

Investors have taken notice of the shrinking middle. Shares of Sears and J. C. Penney have fallen more than 50 percent since the end of 2009, even as upper-end stores like Nordstrom and bargain-basement chains like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar Stores have more than doubled in value over the same period.

Now, that same unequal distribution of income seems to be destroying the foundations of the postwar era of middlebrow culture. As A. O. Scott explains,

The middlebrow is robustly represented in “difficult” cable television shows, some of which, curiously enough, fetishize such classic postwar middlebrow pursuits as sex research and advertising. It also thrives in a self-conscious foodie culture in which a taste for folkloric authenticity commingles with a commitment to virtue and refinement.

But in literature and film we hear a perpetual lament for the midlist and the midsize movie, as the businesses slip into a topsy-turvy high-low economy of blockbusters and niches. The art world spins in an orbit of pure money. Museums chase dollars with crude commercialism aimed at the masses and the slavish cultivation of wealthy patrons. Symphonies and operas chase donors and squeeze workers (that is, artists) as the public drifts away.

Universities and colleges, the seedbeds of a cultural ideal consecrated to both excellence and democracy, to citizenship and to knowledge for its own sake, are becoming either hothouses for the new dynastic elite or training centers for the technocratic debt peons of the digital future.

In the hectic heyday of the middlebrow, intellectuals gazed back longingly at earlier dispensations when masterpieces were forged in conditions of inequality by lucky or well-born artists favored by rich or titled patrons.

Social inequality may be returning, but that doesn’t mean that the masterpieces will follow. The highbrows were co-opted or killed off by the middle, and the elitism they championed has been replaced by another kind, the kind that measures all value, cultural and otherwise, in money. It may be time to build a new ladder.

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In an essay that’s been getting come attention (e.g., from the BBC), William Deresiewicz argues that elite private (and, increasingly, public) colleges and universities are reproducing a homogeneous class of entitled “zombies” trapped in a bubble of privilege.

Let’s not kid ourselves: The college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class attempting to maintain its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself. In the affluent suburbs and well-heeled urban enclaves where this game is principally played, it is not about whether you go to an elite school. It’s about which one you go to. It is Penn versus Tufts, not Penn versus Penn State. It doesn’t matter that a bright young person can go to Ohio State, become a doctor, settle in Dayton, and make a very good living. Such an outcome is simply too horrible to contemplate.

This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead. The numbers are undeniable. In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be. And public institutions are not much better than private ones. As of 2004, 40 percent of first-year students at the most selective state campuses came from families with incomes of more than $100,000, up from 32 percent just five years earlier.

The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term)most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools. The SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely. Today, fewer than half of high-scoring students from low-income families even enroll at four-year schools.

And this is news?!

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An arts degree costs $120,000 but the typical artist only makes $25,000 a year.

That’s one of the many facts about the situation and composition of artists in New York City generated by the collective BFAMFAPhD (which includes my friend Susan Jahoda) [ht: ja].

Here are some others:

  • Only 15 percent of the people in New York with an art degree actually make a living as artists. The rest? 16 percent work in sales and other office occupations, 15 percent work in various professional fields, 11 percent are educators, 10 percent are managers, 10 percent work in service jobs, 9 percent have not worked in the last five years, 5 percent are working in business and finance, 3 percent work in various blue collar occupations, 3 percent now work in science, technology, or engineering, and 2 percent now work in medicine. (See this chart.)
  • As it turns out, while the poverty rate in New York City is 20.8 percent (and the national rate is 14.9 percent), 10.1 percent of people with an art degree live at or below the official poverty line. (See this chart.)
  • New York City’s population is 33 percent white non-Hispanic, but 74 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are white non-Hispanic and 74 percent of people who make a living as artists are white non-Hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 23 percent black non-Hispanic, but only 6 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are black non-Hispanic, and only 7 percent of people who make a living as artists are black non-Hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 29 percent Hispanic (of any race), but only 8 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are Hispanic, and only 10 percent of people who make a living as artists are hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 13 percent Asian non-Hispanic, but only 10 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are Asian non-Hispanic, and 8 percent of people who make a living as artists are Asian non-Hispanic.
  • Of the people who identified their primary occupation as artist in the 2010-2012 American Community Survey in New York City, 55 percent were male, even though only 42 percent of people with art degrees are men.

The portrait that emerges is an artist (or someone with an art degree) who, demographically (in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender), does not represent the larger New York City population and who mostly has to earn a living doing something other than creating art.

As A. O. Scott recently observed,

Nobody would argue against the idea that art has a social value, and yet almost nobody will assert that society therefore has an obligation to protect that value by acknowledging, and compensating, the labor of the people who produce it.