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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Who Has Been "Eclipsed"?

Ronald Brownstein:

Eclipsed, by Ronald Brownstein, National Journal: From Revolutionary days through 2004, a majority of Americans fit two criteria. They were white. And they concluded their education before obtaining a four-year college degree. ... But as the country grew more diverse and better educated, the white working-class share of the adult population slipped to just under 50 percent in ... 2005... That number has since fallen below 48 percent.
The demographic eclipse of the white working class is likely an irreversible trend as the United States reconfigures itself yet again as a “world nation” reinvigorated by rising education levels and kaleidoscopic diversity. ...
Still, amid all of this change, whites without a four-year college degree remain the largest demographic bloc in the workforce. ... They are also, polls consistently tell us, the most pessimistic and alienated group in American society. ...
This worry is hardly irrational. As Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists Frank Levy and Tom Kochan report in a new paper, the average high-school-educated, middle-aged man earns almost 10 percent less than his counterpart did in 1980. Minorities haven’t been exempt from that trend: In fact, high-school-educated minority men have experienced even slower wage growth than their white counterparts over the past two decades, calculates Larry Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute.
But for minorities, that squeeze has been partially offset by the sense that possibilities closed to their parents are becoming available to them as discrimination wanes. “The distinction is, these blue-collar whites see opportunities for people like them shrinking, whereas the African-Americans [and Hispanics] feel there are a set of long-term opportunities that are opening to them that were previously closed on the basis of race or ethnicity,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster...
By contrast, although it is difficult to precisely quantify, the sense of being eclipsed demographically is almost certainly compounding the white working class’s fear of losing ground economically. That huge bloc of Americans increasingly feels itself left behind—and lacks faith that either government or business cares much about its plight. Under these pressures, non-college whites are now experiencing rates of out-of-wedlock birth and single parenthood approaching the levels that triggered worries about the black family a generation ago. Alarm bells should be ringing now about the social and economic trends in the battered white working class and the piercing cry of distress rising from this latest survey.

Perhaps it's not what's intended, but this reads like: We don't have to pay as much attention to minorities as we do to disaffected whites because minority groups are benefiting from not being discriminated against as much as in the past (and making less noise than white groups) -- as though less of a bad thing somehow works out to be a net benefit. And that's seems to be what's happening. Loud groups of disaffected whites get all the press and attention from politicians, while minority households -- who have faced even higher costs due to the recession -- have received little notice. I'll leave trends in the sociology of the family to others, I don't know these data well enough to say whether the assertions in the article are valid, and if they are valid how worrisome they actually are. But one thing would surely help in any case -- jobs, jobs, jobs --- for middle class whites, for minorities, and for anyone else who needs one, and that's where policymakers ought to be focusing their attention.

    Posted by on Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 12:06 PM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (59)


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