In this issue, more on the white working-class divide, the trouble organizing labor, poverty and Trump's budget, and why JD Vance has gone home.
Dividing the country into 1,000-plus regions, the authors find that the rate of “deaths of despair” (deaths by drugs, alcohol, and suicide) in midlife for white non-Hispanics rose in nearly every part of the country and at every level of urbanization—from deep rural areas to large central cities—hitting men and women similarly.
In 2000, the epidemic was centered in the southwest. By the mid-2000s it had spread to Appalachia, Florida, and the west coast. Today, it’s country-wide...What’s more, the increases in deaths of despair are accompanied by a measurable deterioration in economic and social wellbeing, which has become more pronounced for each successive birth cohort. Marriage rates and labor force participation rates fall between successive birth cohorts, while reports of physical pain, and poor health and mental health rise.
In the Guardian, Faiza Shaheen looks at the label of the white working class through a British lens and says all it is a divide and conquer strategy:
These dinner ladies – who represent the whole spectrum of race – are all in the same boat. Public spending cuts mean they are all losing their jobs, and as a group of women without higher qualifications they are all faced with dead-end, low-paid and insecure work. Why does it help to divide this group when they have so much in common? This really gets to the root of why the white working class narrative is so problematic. It divides a group that when united and mobilised can be a real force for change...It’s not hard, then, to see whose agenda dividing the working class is serving – that of unscrupulous bosses, CEOs now earning 386 times the national living wage and the policy-makers who are creating the conditions that allow this to happen. Not for the first in history, working-class people are being used as pawns to maintain privileges at the top.
Speaking of spending cuts, the Center for American Progress argues the president's 2017 budget would leave behind rural America by cutting programs. Here just a few examples:
The Trump budget eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission—cutting $119 million in FY 2018—and the Delta Regional Authority—cutting $45 million in FY 2018—which include federal, state, and local partnerships to improve the economy, workforce, and/or infrastructure of 15 states, including: Alabama; Arkansas; Georgia; Illinois; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Mississippi; New York; North Carolina; Ohio; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; Tennessee; and Virginia.
Bloomberg's Peter Waldman meanwhile reports on why Alabama's auto boom may not be all that good for workers. He notes that while many of Northern plants have unions, few exist in the South:
Alabama has been trying on the nickname “New Detroit.” Its burgeoning auto parts industry employs 26,000 workers, who last year earned $1.3 billion in wages. Georgia and Mississippi have similar, though smaller, auto parts sectors. This factory growth, after the long, painful demise of the region’s textile industry, would seem to be just the kind of manufacturing renaissance President Donald Trump and his supporters are looking for.
Except that it also epitomizes the global economy’s race to the bottom. Parts suppliers in the American South compete for low-margin orders against suppliers in Mexico and Asia. They promise delivery schedules they can’t possibly meet and face ruinous penalties if they fall short. Employees work ungodly hours, six or seven days a week, for months on end. Pay is low, turnover is high, training is scant, and safety is an afterthought, usually after someone is badly hurt. Many of the same woes that typify work conditions at contract manufacturers across Asia now bedevil parts plants in the South.
In the Nation, Richard Yeselson profiles several new books on why organizing labor is difficult in the 21st Century:
It took over 15 years to organize 5,000 people in that struggle, while the Fight for $15 win in Seattle, which she denigrates as mere top-down mobilization weakened by backroom machinations, took about a year to complete and will affect over 100,000 people over a seven-year phase-in.
A union, to be sure, is better than a wage increase, but the structure of the US economy is such that a 5,000-worker site—large by the standards of today’s economy—doesn’t resonate in the way that, say, the victory at US Steel or General Motors, at sites with five or 10 times as many workers, did in the 1930s and ’40s. As labor has transformed over the past half-century, so too has union organizing.
Part of the reason that unions devised the comprehensive campaign to augment on-the-ground organizing is that workplaces across many industries have shrunk dramatically, and it is hard to imagine how to organize companies with large numbers of workers dispersed over hundreds or even thousands of workplaces around the country—unless there are some other forms of leverage that force corporate leaders to negotiate with labor.
Also in Bloomberg, we have a look at why college for some entry-level jobs is holding back the job market. "The job market is much tighter now, but it appears that employers haven't relaxed their hiring criteria," writes Peter Coy. "That could explain why 43 percent say finding enough candidates is a top challenge in filling entry-level jobs. It's a classic example of shooting yourself in the foot, but of course it's also bad for the young people without college degrees who can't get onto the bottom rung of the career ladder."
Being Harsh to the Poor
Let's have a cartoon from Mike Luckovich:
In Medium, Charles Clymer looks hunger and shame in in America and what it has to do with budget cuts like free school lunch and meals on wheels. "In our country, the impoverished are taught to feel shame over food, in ways big and small. Shame, it would seem, centers in food. This shame over food is something I’ve noticed isn’t present in folks who grew up never wanting for food."
Speaking of meals on wheels, NPR looks at the program and why it is vital:
Meals on Wheels serves more than 2 million seniors every year who aren’t able to shop and cook for themselves. Research on home-delivered meal programs shows that they improve diet, nutrition and quality of life, and reduce food insecurity among participants. In short, when seniors get meals, they’re healthier. My casual field research — otherwise known as every conversation I’ve ever had with my grandparents — also backs this up. If you don’t feel well, you should eat something.
I’m guessing, based on Mulvaney’s argument that cutting the program’s funding is the “compassionate” thing to do, that he hasn’t watched someone nearly die from malnutrition. But I have.
Over at Salon, Chauncy Devega offers a harsh critique on views of the GOP toward the poor:
And conservatives are more likely than liberals or progressives to believe in what’s known as the “just world fallacy,” whereby people who suffer a misfortune are viewed as somehow deserving their fate. Conservatives are also more likely than liberals or progressives to not use systems-level thinking as a way to understand that individuals don’t exist separate and apart from society. Conservatives are also more likely to defend social inequality as “fair and legitimate.”
...The myth of meritocracy and its cousin, the myth of individualism, exert a powerful hold over many Americans. This is especially true among conservatives. Social scientists and others have repeatedly demonstrated that American society is not a true meritocracy.
In the New York Magazine, DW Gibson profiles people struggling with homelessness and assess why the $1.2 billion in spending by NYC to combat it isn't working:
Over the last several months, I met a lot of working people like Ford-Benson while interviewing homeless New Yorkers. They cut hair, serve food, care for the elderly, and run after-school programs. They’re not an anomaly: 71 percent of the shelter population is made up of families, a third of whom have a head of household who is working. “The new working poor are homeless,” says Christine Quinn, the former City Council Speaker who now serves as chief executive for Win, a shelter provider for women and families. “A lot of them work for the city or not-for-profits. I can’t tell you I don’t have a Win employee living in a shelter somewhere.”
While the city’s tabloids spotlight mental health and drug dependency as contributing causes of homelessness — and, indeed, they are — the biggest factor, particularly for the working poor, is a familiar New York story: stagnant wages and soaring rents. Between 2000 and 2014, the median New York City rent increased 19 percent while household income decreased by 6.3 percent. In that same period, the city’s homeless population more than doubled from 22,972 to 51,470. There are now around 60,000 people in the city’s shelter system, an all-time peak.
In the Economist, an interesting look at what America's struggle over the healthcare law has to do with warfare:
The American difference on health care is partly a question of philosophy. Americans are more inclined to believe that people make their own luck than people in countries with more developed welfare states...But it is also a question of history and, more specifically, of how welfare states in the rest of the world developed alongside warfare.
In America this relationship between warfare and health care has evolved differently. The moment when the highest proportion of men of fighting age were at war, during the civil war (when 13% of the population was mobilised), came too early to spur the creation of a national health system. Instead, the federal government broke the putative link between war and universal health care by treating ex-servicemen differently from everyone else. In 1930 the Veterans Administration was set up to care for those who had served in the first world war. It has since become a single-payer system of government-run hospitals of the kind that many Americans associate with socialised medicine in Europe. America did come close to introducing something like universal health care during the Vietnam war, when once again large numbers of men were being drafted. Richard Nixon proposed a comprehensive health-insurance plan to Congress in 1974. But for Watergate, he might have succeeded.
You might be interested in this video with Laura Callanan, the founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab, explaining how artists are addressing social inequalities in their work:
This week, David Rockefeller died at 101. In the New York Times, Jonathan Kandell looks at his life and philanthropy:
The youngest of six siblings, David Rockefeller was born in Manhattan on June 12, 1915. His father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., the only son of the oil titan, devoted his life to philanthropy. His mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was the daughter of Nelson Aldrich, a wealthy senator from Rhode Island...As an octogenarian, Mr. Rockefeller, whose fortune was estimated in 2012 at $2.7 billion, increasingly devoted himself to philanthropy, donating tens of millions of dollars in particular to Harvard, the Museum of Modern Art and the Rockefeller University, which John D. Rockefeller Sr. founded in 1901.
Hillbilly Ellegy author JD Vance moved home to Ohio to start a social venture to combat the brain drain and the opioid addiction prevalent in the region, he writes in the New York Times:
I’ve long worried whether I’ve become a part of this problem. For two years, I’d lived in Silicon Valley, surrounded by other highly educated transplants with seemingly perfect lives. It’s jarring to live in a world where every person feels his life will only get better when you came from a world where many rightfully believe that things have become worse. And I’ve suspected that this optimism blinds many in Silicon Valley to the real struggles in other parts of the country. So I decided to move home, to Ohio...I realized that we often frame civic responsibility in terms of government taxes and transfer payments, so that our society’s least fortunate families are able to provide basic necessities. But this focus can miss something important: that what many communities need most is not just financial support, but talent and energy and committed citizens to build viable businesses and other civic institutions.