Posts Tagged ‘Hispanics’

wealth

One of the most pernicious myths in the United States is that higher education successfully levels the playing field across students with different backgrounds and therefore reduces wealth inequality.

The reality is quite different—for the population as a whole and, especially, for racial and ethnic minorities.

As is clear from the chart above, the share of wealth owned by the top 1 percent has risen dramatically since the mid-1970s, rising from 22.9 percent in 1976 to 38.6 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the share owned by the bottom 90 percent has declined, falling from 34.2 percent to 27 percent. And that of the bottom 50 percent? It has remained virtually unchanged at a negligible amount, falling from 0.9 percent to zero.

During that same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (pdf), the proportion of Americans aged 25 to 29 with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 24 percent to 36 percent. (For the entire population 25 and older, the percentage with that level of education rose from 15 to 33.)

So, no, higher education has not leveled the playing field or reduced wealth inequality. In fact, it seems, quite the opposite appears to be the case.

And that’s true, too, for racial and ethnic disparities in wealth. As William R. Emmons and Lowell R. Ricketts (pdf) of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis have concluded,

Despite generations of generally rising college-graduation rates, higher education’s promise of significantly reducing income and wealth disparities across all races and ethnicities remains largely unfulfilled. . .rather than promoting economic equality across all races and ethnicities, higher education unintentionally has become an engine for growing disparities.

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Thus, for example, median Hispanic and black wealth levels decline relative to similarly educated whites as education increases until the very top. Moreover, only about 7 percent of black families and 5 percent of Hispanic families have postgraduate degrees, and wealth disparities remain large even there.

Darrick Hamilton and William A. Darity, Jr. (pdf), who participated in the same symposium, go even further. According to them, the United States has a fundamental problem in discussing wealth disparities according to race and ethnicity:

Much of the framing around wealth disparity, including the use of alternative financial service products, focuses on the poor financial choices and decisionmaking on the part of largely Black, Latino, and poor borrowers, which is often tied to a culture of poverty thesis regarding an undervaluing and low acquisition of education.

Thus, while they agree that a college degree is positively associated with wealth within racial and ethnic groups, it is still the case that it does little to address the massive wealth gap across such groups.

And yet the myth persists. American elites and policymakers still to choose to emphasize the economic returns to education as the panacea to address socially established wealth disparities and structural barriers of racial and ethnic economic inclusion.

The question is, why?

According to Hamilton and Darity, such a view

follows from a neoliberal perspective, where the free market, as long as individual agents are properly incentivized, is supposed to be the solution to all our problems, economic or otherwise. The transcendence of Barack Obama becomes the ideal symbolism and spokesperson of this political perspective. His ascendency becomes an allegory of hard work, merit, efficiency, social mobility, freedom and fairness, individual agency, and personal responsibility. The neoliberal ideology is not limited to race. It more generally places the onus on individual actions, and more broadly leads to deficiency narratives for low achievement, but this is especially the case when considering race and other stigmatized workers. Perhaps the greatest rhetorical victory of this paradigm is convincing the masses that implicit in unfettered markets is the “American Dream”—the hope that, even if your lot in life is subpar, with patience and individual hard work, you can turn your proverbial “rags into riches.”

And so the myth of college and the American Dream is perpetuated, while the unequal distribution of wealth—across the entire population, and especially with respect to ethnic and racial minorities—which has been growing for decades, continues unabated.

mortality

We don’t need Louisiana Detective Rodie Sanchez coming out of retirement to solve the crime against the members of the working-class currently being committed in the United States.

We already know many of the details of the crime. We also know the identities of both the victims and the serial killer. The only real mystery is, what’s the country going to do about it?

The investigation itself is being painstakingly carried out by Anne Case and Agnus Deaton (pdf). They show, with abundant statistics, that mortality trends in the United States run counter to those in other rich countries, where they have been steadily declining for decades.

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The headlines, of course, have been about one group—middle-age white non-Hispanics with a high-school degree or less—whose mortality rates, especially those attributed to “deaths of despair” (drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality), increased from 1998 through 2015.* The focus in on that group for a number of reasons, including the fact that increasing rates for them (as against blacks and nonwhite Hispanics) have all but erased the racial gap in mortality among non-college-educated Americans—and, of course, because of the prominence of “white working-class” voters in explanations of Donald Trump’s electoral victory.

But we also need to go beyond the headlines and understand that, while rates for different ethnic and racial groups in the United States have moved in opposite directions in recent decades, the rates for working-class blacks and Hispanics are still very high—and, in recent years (as can be seen, in the case of blacks, in the chart at the top of the post), they’ve also begun to rise.

That’s the real crime story. All three groups within the American working-class—whites, blacks, and Hispanics—are being killed at abnormally high rates compared to the populations of other rich countries.

And the serial killer? Case and Deaton have a much more difficult time working in this area. That’s because they follow the headlines and emphasize the differences in the long-term trend rates and lose sight of the larger picture. So, they discount the role played by income inequality and, instead, endorse Charles Murray’s story about the decline in traditional American virtues among working-class whites (which I wrote about back in 2012).

The fact is, the labor-market factors identified by Case and Deaton—which have negatively affected whites, blacks, and Hispanics with a high-school degree or less—have become more severe as inequality has soared and the social safety net ripped apart in the United States from the early 1970s onward. The upward trend for whites and the narrowing of the racial gap, as significant as they are, shouldn’t hide from view the more general problem (as I wrote about in 2015) of a large and growing gap between the life expectancies (for both men and women) of those at the top and bottom of the distribution of income in the United States.

American TV is currently captivating viewers with stories of people accused of committing horrific acts. It’s time, however, to focus on the story of an economic system that has created its own killing fields.

 

*Mortality increases for whites in midlife have also been paralleled by morbidity increases, including deteriorations in self-reported physical and mental health, and rising reports of chronic pain.

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The paradox of the 2016 presidential race is that both major party candidates claim (or at least are identified by those in the media with) support of portions of the U.S. working-class and yet neither campaign offers anything in the way of concrete policies or strategies that actually respond to the real issues and problems faced by the members of the working-class.

Donald Trump’s supporters, for example, are more likely to be white workers in blue-collar fields who have less education—and yet the candidate himself, even though he criticizes the loss of manufacturing jobs and the anti-labor bias of free-trade agreements, has argued that American workers’ wages are too high and economic policy should focus on lowering tax rates for corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile, the Podesta emails show that Hillary Clinton has no plans to reward the labor movement’s unwavering loyalty or record contributions to her campaign, especially those organizing hourly workers at Walmart and fast-food chains.

So, regardless of who wins the election on 8 November, the condition of the working-class in the United States will likely be ignored.

The biggest obstacle to considering the actual situation the American working-class finds itself in is the presumption that the working-class is white and everyone else is an “identity” group, as if most members of other ethnic and racial groups—especially Blacks and Hispanics—aren’t themselves members of the working-class. The fact is, most Americans are forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to someone else and, while there are differences in both position and ideas (as there always are within a group as large as the working-class), they constitute the majority who as they work produce a surplus that is appropriated by a small group of employers (some of which, in turn, is distributed to a somewhat larger group of executives and supervisors).

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In terms of numbers I’ve illustrated before, we’re talking grosso modo about the top 1 percent and the rest of the top 10 percent versus the bottom 90 percent—whose shares of national income have been moving in opposite directions for the better part of the past three and a half decades.

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And the key reason the shares of national income going to the top 1 percent and the rest of the top 10 percent have been growing and the share going to the bottom 90 percent has been falling is the fact that, as I’ve shown before, the profit and wage shares have also been moving in opposing directions in recent decades.

wealth

Not surprisingly, as depicted in the chart above, the ownership of wealth is even more unevenly distributed between the working-class and those at the top. (The only major difference between changes in the distribution of income and wealth since 1979 is the fact that the share of wealth owned by the members of the top 10 percent exclusive of the top 1 percent has actually declined, from 43.1 percent to 35.4 percent.)

But, of course, the deteriorating condition of the U.S. working-class goes beyond the obscene (and still-growing) inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. As both a condition and consequence of those inequalities, working-class Americans have suffered from mass unemployment (reaching 1 in 10 workers, according to the official rate, in October 2009, and much higher if we include discouraged workers and those who have underemployed), real wages that have been flat or falling for decades (now below what they were in the mid-1970s) along with declining benefits, a precipitous decline in unions (from one quarter in the 1970s to about ten percent today), an increase in the number of hours worked (both the length of the workweek and the average number of weeks worked per year), a significant rise in the incidence of “alternative work arrangements” (such as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers), and most people think good jobs are difficult to find where they live (by a factor of 2 to 1)—not to mention increasing mortality (for the first time since the 1950s), an increase in differences in life expectancy between those at the top and everyone else, high levels of infant mortality, a spectacular growth in the rate of incarceration, and increasing indebtedness (especially for student and auto loans).

Overall, the working-class in the United States has not shared in the increased prosperity of the nation in recent decades, and has carried more than its share of the costs of the Great Recession in recent years. American workers have been producing a larger and larger surplus. But it’s not going to them. It is appropriated by their employers, who keep some within their enterprises (for investment and, increasingly, for other purposes, such as mergers and acquisitions) and distribute the rest to those who manage the operations of those enterprises (who, in turn, engage in conspicuous consumption and purchase financial assets). That’s why there’s a growing gap—by every conceivable measure—between those at the top and the U.S. working-class.

It’s no wonder, then, that over the course of the past year and a half American workers have rejected establishment politics—as offered by both Democrats and Republicans—and voted in large numbers for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They’re simply fed up with an economic system that has been rigged to benefit only a small group at the top and frustrated by a set of political candidates (not to mention economists and economic pundits) who pronounce fundamental change to be undesirable and unrealistic. Better to stay the course, so the elites preach, and eventually trickledown economics will work.

But, as George Packer explains,

the élites on each side of the partisan divide have more in common with one another than they do with voters down below. A network-systems administrator, an oil-and-gas-company vice-president, a journalist, and a dermatologist hire nannies from the same countries, dine at the same Thai restaurants, travel abroad on the same frequent-flier miles, and invest in the same emerging-markets index funds. They might have different political views, but they share a common interest in the existing global order. . .

Democrats can no longer really claim to be the party of working people—not white ones, anyway. Those voters, especially men, have become the Republican base, and the Republican Party has experienced the 2016 election as an agonizing schism, a hostile takeover by its own rank and file. Conservative leaders had taken the base for granted for so long that, when Trump burst into the race, in the summer of 2015, they were confounded. Some scoffed at him, others patronized him, but for months they didn’t take him seriously. He didn’t sound like a conservative at all. . .

The great truth was that large numbers of Republican voters, especially less educated ones, weren’t constitutional originalists, libertarian free traders, members of the Federalist Society, or devout readers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They actually wanted government to do more things that benefitted them (as opposed to benefitting people they saw as undeserving).

Right now, the working-class finds itself divided—without a party of its own and forced to choose between two presidential candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings in modern history. In recent elections, the Democratic candidate has lost among one portion—whites, without a college degree—of the working-class.* But Democrats have gained among other portions—Hispanics, Blacks, young people, and those with a college degree—and, in 2016, they’re counting on that same coalition.

The actual result is going to depend on turnout among different parts of the working-class. Clinton, who is clinging to a deteriorating lead over Trump, is faced with a slump in early Black voter turnout.** Trump, for his part, would need a turnout among non-college-educated white voters that equals that of college-educated whites in order to win.

The problem, of course, is neither major-party candidate offers a convincing response to the real issues faced by the U.S. working-class—as a whole much less to its diverse resentments and desires, its multiple identities and aspirations.

And what happens to the working-class once the election is over? My suspicion is, if Clinton manages to hang on to her lead, the injuries and insults visited upon the working-class in recent years and decades will quickly be forgotten. Ironically, only if Trump finds a way to win will the working-class be afforded any ongoing attention—but then only one portion and only in terms of their decision to vote based on “fear and resentment occasioned by a loss of identity and standing.”

But, in either case, the condition of the working-class in the United States will continue to deteriorate and to be ignored by those at the top.

 

*As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin explain, “the worst performance came in 2012 when Obama lost this group—once the bulwark of the Democratic coalition—by a staggering 26 points (62-36).”

**But, according to the New York Times, “Working in Mrs. Clinton’s favor even if her share of the black vote declines is the fact that she has built a political coalition different from Mr. Obama’s. She is counting on an electorate that is more Hispanic and includes more white voters — especially college-educated women — who would have considered voting Republican but are repelled by Mr. Trump.”

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