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Hullabaloo


Monday, July 29, 2013

 
The choice in front of white America

by David Atkins

Another reminder that the American Dream is still dying, and the economy remains terrible no matter what the stock and housing markets say.

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration's emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to "rebuild ladders of opportunity" and reverse income inequality.

As nonwhites approach a numerical majority in the U.S., one question is how public programs to lift the disadvantaged should be best focused – on the affirmative action that historically has tried to eliminate the racial barriers seen as the major impediment to economic equality, or simply on improving socioeconomic status for all, regardless of race.

Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families' economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy "poor."
The racial dynamics are fascinating: lower-income white Americans are losing their privilege, statistically speaking.

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government's poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

The gauge defines "economic insecurity" as experiencing unemployment at some point in their working lives, or a year or more of reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones.

"It's time that America comes to understand that many of the nation's biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position," said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty. He noted that despite continuing economic difficulties, minorities have more optimism about the future after Obama's election, while struggling whites do not.

"There is the real possibility that white alienation will increase if steps are not taken to highlight and address inequality on a broad front," Wilson said.
Lower-income whites can do one of two things in response to this. They can develop a class consciousness and understand that they have more in common with lower-income persons of color than they do with Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity. Or they can do what they have traditionally done and attempt to preserve their sliver of privilege over their fellows of different races.

Democrats could certainly do a better job of making the class-conscious appeal to recruit these voters. But it's not entirely clear that they respond any better to Elizabeth Warren's populist appeal than they do to Barack Obama's neoliberal one. Leadership helps, but it only goes so far. The onus is on working white America to wake up and realize that minorities are not the enemy; the corporate bosses are. If things continue on their current path, it's going to be a long, slow electoral trench war until lower-income whites become an electorally near-irrelevant segment in a few decades.


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