Posts Tagged ‘race’


Special mention


wealth shares

Yesterday, I looked at the enormous wealth of U.S. billionaires and the growing gap between them and the rest of the American people.

Today, I want to examine what’s happened in recent years at the bottom of the wealth pyramid.

We know that, for decades, the share of net personal wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent has been declining. It peaked at 38.5 percent in the mid-1980s and, by 2014, it had fallen to 27 percent—more or less where it started in the early 1960s.

As is clear from the chart above, most of the change occurred for the middle 40 percent (the blue area), since the bottom 50 percent in the United States has owned very little personal wealth. Its share (the red area), which reached a peak in 1987 (2.4 percent), has since fallen below zero (-0.1 percent, in 2014).

Clearly, the small and declining share of wealth owned by the vast majority of Americans challenges the fundamental presumptions and promises of the country and its economic institutions—that American workers should and would share in the nation’s growing wealth. They haven’t and, if current trends continue, they won’t.

In fact, as it turns out, there is only one dimension of American society where wealth inequality is actually decreasing: the racial wealth gap among low-income households. And that’s only because, since the onset of the Second Great Depression, the median net worth of low-income whites has been cut by nearly half—while the median net worth of low-income blacks and Hispanics has remained relatively stable.

According to an analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center of the data contained in the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, there is a large gap between the median net worth of white families ($171 thousand) and both black ($17.6 thousand) and Hispanic ($20.7 thousand) families—a gap that increased between 2013 and 2016. The white-black gap grew from $132,800 to $153,500 while the white-Hispanic gap increased from $132,200 to $150,300.


The gap between whites and both blacks and Hispanics also increased for middle-income Americans (those with incomes between two-thirds and twice the national median size-adjusted income). Thus, for example, white households in the middle-income tier had a median net worth of $154,400 in 2016, compared with $38,300 for middle-income blacks and $46,000 for middle-income Hispanics.

But for low-income Americans (those with size-adjusted household incomes less than two-thirds the median), the racial gap, while still large, has shrunk considerably since 2007, the year the most recent crash began. In that year, the white-black gap was 5 to 1 and the white-Hispanic gap almost 10 to 1. In 2016, those wealth gaps had fallen to less than 3 to 1 and 5 to 1, respectively.

As is clear from the chart above, the major reason for the decline in the racial wealth gap is the fact that the median wealth of low-income whites fell by more than half between 2007 and 2013, while the median wealth of both blacks and Hispanics decreased by much less (around 19 percent).

The cause of both the racial gaps and the decline in white wealth has to do with homeownership, the only major form of wealth held by low-income Americans. In 2007, 56 percent of low-income whites were homeowners, compared with 32 percent each for low-income blacks and Hispanics. The homeownership rate among low-income whites has trended downward since then, falling to 49 percent by 2016, but the rate for blacks and Hispanics is largely unchanged. The decline in low-income white wealth was caused by the crash of the housing market, leading to a fall in housing prices and a decline in the rate of homeownership.

Economically, then, the crash and the uneven recovery moved low-income Americans—white, black, and Hispanic—much closer together at the bottom of the U.S. wealth pyramid. Politically, those changes created losses and resentments that affected the outcome of the presidential election of 2016, which in turn have made it difficult to challenge the conditions and consequences of the Second Gilded Age.


It wasn’t a homogeneous block—whether the white working-class or anti-immigrant nativists or the victims of globalization—that put Donald Trump into the White House. That’s the kind of reductionist narrative that has proliferated both before and after the fateful 2016 presidential election, all in an attempt to make sense of Trump’s “base.”

Instead, it was a complex coalition of voters, with different resentments and desires, that combined, at least via the electoral college (but not, of course, in the popular vote), to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Trump.

That’s the conclusion arrived at by Emily Ekins [ht: db] of the Cato Institute and the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group.

According to Ekins, there were five unique clusters of Trump voters—American Preservationists (20 percent), Staunch Conservatives (31 percent), Anti-Elites (19 percent), Free Marketeers (25 percent), and the Disengaged (5 percent)—who hold very different views on a wide variety of issues, including immigration, race, American identity, moral traditionalism, international trade, and economics.

Here’s how Ekins describes these different clusters:

Staunch Conservatives are steadfast fiscal conservatives, embrace moral traditionalism, and have a moderately nativist conception of American identity and approach to immigration.

Free Marketeers are small government fiscal conservatives, free traders, with moderate to liberal positions on immigration and race. (Their vote was a vote primarily against Clinton and not a vote for Trump.)

American Preservationists lean economically progressive, believe the economic and political systems are rigged, have nativist immigration views, and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity.

Anti-Elites lean economically progressive, believe the economic and political systems are rigged, and take relatively more moderate positions on immigration, race, and American identity than American Preservationists. They are also the most likely group to favor political compromise.

The Disengaged do not know much about politics, but what they do know is they feel detached from institutions and elites and are skeptical of immigration.

Call it the “unholy alliance” of Trump voters—clusters of people who had different motivations in mind when they went to the voting booth.


A good example of their diversity is their response to the question, do you have favor raising taxes on families with incomes over $200,000 a year? Overwhelming majorities of American Preservationists and Anti-Elites (and a plurality of the Disengaged) favor raising taxes, while Staunch Conservatives and Free Marketeers are opposed.


Much the same differences arise when asked if the economic system in the United States is biased in favor of the wealthiest Americans.

In fact, Ekins found only four issues that clearly distinguish Trump voters from non-Trump voters: an intense dislike of Clinton, a more dismal view of their personal financial situations, support for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, and opposition to illegal immigration. Otherwise, as Ekins explains, Trump voters diverge on a wide variety of salient issues, including taxes, entitlements, immigration, race, pluralism, traditionalism, and social conservatism.

As I see it, Ekins’s analysis of Trump voters is significant for two reasons: First, it reveals how complex—and shaky or unstable—the coalition is. It’s going to make it difficult for Trump and the Republican Congress to govern in any kind of unified fashion. Second, it creates real opportunities for the political opposition, depending on how it reorganizes itself in the months and years ahead and whether or not it is able to move beyond the Clinton-dominated wing of the Democratic Party, to peal off significant numbers of Trump voters.

That’s only possible if, as Ekins writes, we acknowledge that “different types of people came to vote for Trump and not all for the same reasons.”


As I argued a couple of days ago, recent events—such as Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency, and the rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn—have surprised many experts and shaken up the existing common sense. In short, they’ve rocked the neoliberal boat.

The question is, where does this leave us?

Thomas Edsall thinks it means we’ve reached the end of class-based politics. I’m not convinced.

Yes, the response to the problems with neoliberal globalization has challenged and cut across traditional party families and their positions on domestic matters, in the United States as in Western Europe. But that doesn’t mean the differences between the Left and the Right have disintegrated or that class politics have become irrelevant.

To take but one of Edsall’s examples, just because there’s no one-to-one correspondence between people who have lost and gained from existing forms of globalization and those who voted for or against Donald Trump doesn’t mean class has declined in political importance, much less that it’s been displaced by a simple “globalism versus nationalism” opposition. Plenty of voters in economic distress voted for Trump and for Clinton—in part because of their different ways of framing class issues, but also because class politics have always been overlain with other, salient identities, resentments, and desires. The 2016 presidential election was no exception.

What this means is battles take place not only between political parties, including newly resurgent ones, but also within those parties. Thus, for example, the mainstream of the Democratic Party was and remains wholly committed to a liberal version of neoliberalism, and its inability to respond to the “economic distress”—the class grievances—of large sections of the American working-class led to its loss last November (which means, of course, the battle inside the Democratic Party has become even more intense). Similarly, Trump’s campaign rhetoric—although certainly not his actual economic and social program—galvanized many who were dissatisfied with “business as usual” in Washington. And, of course, the response to those different positions was affected by the framing of the issue of globalization (for example, Trump’s focus on job losses versus Clinton’s call for more education and reskilling), race (Trump’s dog-whistle invoking of the “inner city” and the need to build a wall in contrast to Clinton’s calls for diversity and inclusion), and much else.

But, in contrast to what Edsall sees, the future of the American left does not lie in mimicking Emmanuel Macron’s defeat of France’s National Front. While Macron’s campaign did represent a rejection of the “racialized and xenophobic politics” that served as one of the pillars of Trump’s victory, there is nothing in Macron’s proposed domestic policy reforms that represent anything other than a French version of “left neoliberalism,” and therefore a real threat to the French working-class.

No, we’re going to have to look elsewhere for an alternative common sense.

Espen Hammer suggests we return to the “rocking of the boat” that has been the underlying aim of the great utopias that have shaped Western culture.

It has animated and informed progressive thinking, providing direction and a sense of purpose to struggles for social change and emancipation.

It is a tradition, beginning with Thomas More, that involves not only thought experiments, of what might be, but also—and perhaps even more important—a critique of the existing order, and therefore what needs to be changed.

Finally, Bhaskar Sunkara suggests that the history of socialism suggests the way forward.

Stripped down to its essence, and returned to its roots, socialism is an ideology of radical democracy. In an era when liberties are under attack, it seeks to empower civil society to allow participation in the decisions that affect our lives. A huge state bureaucracy, of course, can be just as alienating and undemocratic as corporate boardrooms, so we need to think hard about the new forms that social ownership could take.

Some broad outlines should already be clear: Worker-owned cooperatives, still competing in a regulated market; government services coordinated with the aid of citizen planning; and the provision of the basics necessary to live a good life (education, housing and health care) guaranteed as social rights. In other words, a world where people have the freedom to reach their potentials, whatever the circumstances of their birth.

As I see it, that conception of socialism—an expansion of democracy that capitalism promises but simply can’t permit—is capable of satisfying both Edsall’s aversion to a “racialized and xenophobic politics” and Hammer’s utopian “rocking of the boat.”

It’s the start of something new precisely because, in Sunkara’s words, it “allows so many now crushed by inequity to participate in the creation of a new world.”


It should perhaps come as no surprise that Sunkara’s view of the contemporary relevance of socialism, appearing as it did in the New York Times, should invite a backlash reminiscent of the kind of red-baiting and ahistorical analysis that socialists and Marxists were often subjected to during the Cold War. In this case, Jonathan Chait [ht: sm] uses Venezuela as his whipping-boy, decrying the authoritarian elements of the left-wing governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, without any mention of the upper-class roots of the contemporary opposition or of the crisis in Venezuelan society (exemplified in El Caracazo, in 1989) and the subsequent election of Chávez a decade later. No, Chait can’t let actual political and historical analysis get in the way of his broad-brush indictment of what he, echoing generations of liberal anticommunists, considers to be “the inherent authoritarianism that is embedded in an illiberal thought system.”


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.


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.


Funding for public higher education has been decreasing in recent decades and, as schools rely increasingly on tuition for revenue, student debt has been rising.

That much is pretty well known. What is less a matter of public knowledge and debate is the link between growing racial and ethnic diversity and the decline in funding. I, for one, hadn’t considered it before. I knew the cuts in higher education hurt working-class Americans but I hadn’t thought about those cuts in relation to the increase in minority populations.

Until I read the article by Scott Carlson [ht: mfa], in the Chronicle of Higher Education [ht: mfa], who explores the issue in some depth. Carlson looks back at the history of public higher education (including the GI bill and the Reagan-era cuts in Pell Grants), the dog-whistle politics that have limited access for minority- and first-generation students (beginning when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and continuing with William J. Bennett, President Reagan’s secretary of education), and the undermining of the idea of public colleges and universities as an affordable way for working-class youth—white, black, and brown—to obtain a high-quality postsecondary education.

Since Carlson’s article will soon be out of reach behind a paywall, I want to quote at length his discussion of what has been happening in Arizona:

If the federal government doesn’t expand access to education, more of that burden will fall on states. In many of them, individuals and families now pay for a greater share of college costs than taxpayers do. Some places, like Arizona, have been going the way of California years ago.

Arizona’s legislature is whiter, more male, and more Republican than its population. And lately, that state — which has a clause in its constitution proclaiming that higher education “shall be as nearly free as possible” — has passed deep cuts in funding and big increases in tuition.

One of the leaders of that drive is John Kavanagh, a Republican state representative and community-college professor who has made headlines for his anti-immigration stance and remarks about Hispanics and Muslims. In an interview with The Chronicle, he was more measured, saying that the state has had to raise tuition to close a budget gap.

In 2012, he sponsored a bill that would require all students, regardless of income, to pay at least $2,000 toward tuition, in part to ease the burden on middle- and upper-middle-income students. He believes students should have “some skin in the game,” and bristles at the notion of poor students’ paying less, thanks to tuition revenue that gets redistributed as aid.

“I don’t think it’s a good policy to take money from one student to pay for another student’s tuition,” he said. “There is no reason that even a poor student can’t pay a nominal tuition, given that they are going to earn a lot more money than people who don’t have college degrees.”

But Alfredo Gutierrez, president of Maricopa Community College’s governing board and a former Democratic state senator, doesn’t buy the straight argument against subsidies. The state has been extraordinarily hostile to education, he says, a pattern he believes is tied to race. State funding for the Maricopa system had been going down since 2009, he says, until it got none last year. Half of Maricopa’s students are nonwhite.

“The deterioration to the K-12 system, the community-college system, and the universities will ultimately have to be paid for,” Mr. Gutierrez says. “If this trajectory that we are on continues, this will be an extraordinarily ignorant, uneducated state — certainly not a place that can deal with the economy of the future. And it will create a permanent underclass. There will be little ability to escape poverty.”

But Arizona, he predicts, is on the cusp of change. The Latino population is growing so fast that in six to 10 years, Arizona could flip over politically, possibly taking the state in a different direction, one that is more willing to invest in the education of immigrants and minority groups.

“Perhaps we have lost a generation,” he says, “but there is still a real opportunity to make a change.”

But Arizona is not alone. The deterioration of public education at all levels has been occurring across the country and, like much that has been happening in the United States in recent decades, it represents an attack on those least able to shoulder its effects: the children of the working-class, in all their racial and ethnic diversity.



Over the course of this past year, I warned on numerous occasions (e.g., here, here, and here) we needed to pay more attention to the ways class politics were playing out in the 2016 presidential election.*

Now, it’s true, there was considerable attention before 8 November on white working-class men. But the other members of the American working-class were largely overlooked.

That’s certainly true of Black and Hispanic workers as well as white working-class women. The presumption was, because of the nature of Donald Trump’s campaign (as well as his past boorish behavior), working-class voters other than white men would flock to Hillary Clinton and ensure her victory.

As it turns out, the majority of women (54 percent) did vote for Clinton. But white women didn’t (by a margin of 10 points). And white women without a college degree even less: only about one-third (34 percent) voted for the Democratic candidate, while the vast majority (62 percent) went for Trump.**

The Clinton campaign was clearly counting on the support of universal “sisterhood.” But it failed—in no small part because it forgot about “economic inequality, or more specifically, economic inequality among women.”

As Kathleen Geier explains,

economic inequality among women is just as large, and has been growing just as fast, as economic inequality among men.This economic divide among women has created one of the most significant fault lines in contemporary feminism. That’s because professional-class women, who have reaped a disproportionate share of feminism’s gains, have dominated the feminist movement, and the social distance between them and their less privileged sisters is wide and growing wider. In the decades since the dawn of the second wave, educated women gained access to status jobs, but working-class women experienced declining wages and (because of the rise of divorce and single parenthood among the working class) shouldered an increasingly heavy burden of care. Yet mainstream feminist groups and pundits have consistently stressed the social and cultural issues that are most important to affluent women, while marginalizing the economic concerns of the female masses. . .

The class divisions between women came to a head in the 2016 election, when Big Feminism failed women, big-time. Mainstream feminists sold women a bill of goods, arguing that the election of a woman president would improve the lot of women as a class. . .

if you’re a woman living paycheck to paycheck and worried sick over the ever-diminishing economic prospects for you and your children, you’re unlikely to be heavily invested in whether some lady centimillionaire will shatter the ultimate glass ceiling.

The upshot is, both the Democratic Party and the feminist movement are badly in need of reform when it comes to class politics.

Again, here’s Geier:

Feminists would be well-advised to ease up on pop culture navel-gazing and corporate pseudo-feminist drivel like Lean In. They need to shift their central focus from the glass ceiling to the sticky floor, which, after all, is the place where most women dwell. A feminism that delivers for working-class women by addressing their material needs could expand feminism’s base and bring about a much-needed feminist revival. A feminism that delivers for working-class women by addressing their material needs could radically expand feminism’s base. And should feminism once again become a vibrant bottom-up mass movement instead of a top-down elite concern, there’s no telling how far it could go.

Most U.S. feminists know this. But they—and, with them, the working-class—were betrayed by the kind of feminism sanctioned by the elite, which was and remains silent on class politics.


*Although, as I explained, “American politics has always been about a lot of things (from nativism and racism to foreign entanglements and so-called cultural issues).” Still, while U.S. politics shouldn’t be reduced to class politics, ignoring or marginalizing class issues leads to a fundamental misunderstanding—on the part of politicians, pundits, and pollsters—of what is going on out there.

**According to Clare Malone,

Preliminary exit poll results show that while she won women by 12 points overall (Trump won men by the same margin, a historic gender gap), Clinton lost the votes of white women overall and struggled to win women voters without a college education in states that could have propelled her to victory.