Sunday, April 12, 2015
Once it did, we were willing to pay any price, no matter how grievous, to tamp that sort of thing down. We are the same people who raised an army of poor white men to defend the slave system that kept them poor and white (as well as, yes, the people who raised an army of poor and middle class men to destroy them -- and then let them off the hook).
Six years of the white response to Obama -- and the white response to repeated murders of black men and children caught on film -- has made me something of an essentialist. You just cannot explain anything in the US without race as the starting point.
We had a chance to address this in a real way, back in the 1870s. Conservatives bribed enough people that we muffed it. We had another chance, in the 1960s and 70s, and conservatives shot enough people that we muffed it.
You can't live in a house with a sexist and not absorb some of that, if only out of self-defense. You can't live in a nation with conservatives and not have their all-consuming obsession taint you, if only out of self-defense.
I wish more writers would point to housing policy as a serious real-world problem. It turns out that most of the returns to capital Piketty identifies actually come from disproportionate housing appreciation that is a result of zoning changes widely made in the 70s and 80s. Let more people live in high-productivity areas like Seattle, west L.A., Boston, and New York, and you'll see both higher wages on the low end and more real income because less money will be going to rent and mortgages.
But almost no one is raising that issue—with the exception of Yglesias in The Rent is Too Damn High and Avent in The Gated City—despite its tremendous, growing importance.
One of the beneficial effects of postwar American life was an expanding middle class, in which people could afford to get married, could afford to have children, could afford to buy a house, and could afford to take a vacation now and then. However, in recent years, it has becoming more and more difficult to attain and sustain a middle-class lifestyle. More and more people are finding the gateways to a middle-class lifestyle increasingly blocked off, and are condemned to minimum wage jobs flipping burgers at Wendy’s or bagging groceries at the local supermarket.
One of the causes (or unintended side effects) of this increased class stratification is credential inflation. When I was a kid back in the 1950s, a high-school diploma was a respected entry to middle-class respectability, and even provided access to many different types of managerial-level jobs. However, recently the economic value of a high-school diploma has declined so much that it barely qualifies the graduate for manual or menial service work. Jobs that once were open to high school graduates now routinely require not only a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s degree, often without any appreciable change or growth in any of the required skills. Many career pathways are becoming closed off to people who do not have a bachelor’s degree, although these jobs often do not require any skills that are typically taught in college.
Employers keep ratcheting up their educational credential demands, supposedly to filter out people who, based on their lower credential levels, are presumably less competent and less trainable. Perhaps this is also being done to keep the number of applicants for these jobs down to a more manageable level. But many of these jobs do not really require skill sets that are typically taught at the bachelor’s level, and there is very little difference in skill requirements for jobs requiring a college degree from those that do not.
Nowadays, in order to obtain a career that offers even a chance of a middle-class lifestyle, one has to take out an expensive loan and go to college. This has produced an oversupply of college graduates in many fields, so much so that advanced graduate degree holders in many fields have to end up working as store clerks, driving taxicabs, waiting tables, or flipping burgers.
We have a soaring number of people struggling to get into desirable upper-echelon schools, along with growing access to schools that at the bottom of the academic pecking order. We see overworked faculty, crowded lecture halls, more and more of the curriculum being moved online, and a growing army of poorly-paid adjunct faculty.
The difference I see is that many blue collar families were middle class back then, while others were working class. You had to know more than how to turn a wrench, but you didn't need a college degree to live between our house and a corporate VP two doors down and across the street from a teacher. Those weren't cultural tailwinds, they were jobs in an era of income equality that made college possible for their kids. (The headwinds kicked in if your kids assumed those jobs would be there for their kids after they voted for Reagan for "cultural" reasons. Ooops.)
Agree 100% about people not understanding the roots of their success, but a bigger problem is that they don't understand the roots of struggle for people who are smart but got caught unprepared for what happened in the 80s. [Aside: Heard someone tonight correct himself after saying something about the US "losing" jobs overseas, then remembering that we actually sent them there.]
But, yes, he is full of crap about community colleges. Today they are often used by children of well-off parents when an easy life led to low SAT scores. That can be the down side of being on the high side of income inequality today. And, as oft noted here, CCs are also used by bright kids who would be out of place at Swarthmore (Putnam's college) but thrive at flagship universities after transfer. I see it every year.
Fully intended. The deal proposed in the 80s was that the hammer was coming down on the working class, but you could avoid it by going to college.
That was false, of course; the hammer was just coming down, as such. But people bought in, because it allowed them to brutalize the incoming African-American middle class under the illusion that they could escape easily.
Not just employers.
When I taught are a community college (over two decades ago) you needed OAC Calculus (intended for students going to university science & engineering programs) to get into Cosmetology. Nothing in Cosmetology needed calculus, and indeed it wasn't a formal requirement*, but there were so many applications that the college used it as a simple filter to reduce the number of applications they had to read in more detail.
*Couldn't be, as Calculus is a U-level course, and colleges are supposed to be accessible with just C-level courses.