When it comes to college, the central challenge for most Americans in the 21st century is not going; it’s finishing. Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree. Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic follows a group of Starbucks employees taking advantage of the corporation's partnership with Arizona State University, and discovers some of the reasons why so few low-income students graduate on time, or ever get a degree at all. The Upwardly Mobile Barista.
And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer (previously) discusses how unpaid overtime is choking the middle class, the shell game of stock buybacks, and what the Administration could do unilaterally to fix things.
Advice on how to survive late capitalism: "Your life is sold to serve an economy that does not serve your life. You don’t seem to be entertained, Bank-robbin’; your white-hot rage festers. It probably doesn’t help that you live in Brooklyn—this place where in the last ten years rent has spiked 77 percent while real median income has dropped, where the rich (the top 10 percent of earners who, as is well known, control 80 percent of the wealth) and their children live right on top of some of the worst poverty known to this country, while 20 percent of Brooklynites survive somehow below the poverty level, such that the widening income and wealth gap becomes achingly visible here. I could advise you to leave Brooklyn. But I don’t want you to leave Brooklyn."
The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats: "The thing about us businesspeople is that we love our customers rich and our employees poor. So for as long as there has been capitalism, capitalists have said the same thing about any effort to raise wages. We’ve had 75 years of complaints from big business—when the minimum wage was instituted, when women had to be paid equitable amounts, when child labor laws were created. Every time the capitalists said exactly the same thing in the same way: We’re all going to go bankrupt. I’ll have to close. I’ll have to lay everyone off. It hasn’t happened. In fact, the data show that when workers are better treated, business gets better. The naysayers are just wrong." [more inside]
What's the link between household income during childhood and job choice during adulthood? Stats and pretty graphs ahoy!
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins took to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal to compare progressive angst over income inequality to the sentiment that led to the Nazi Kristallnacht. Citing the recent kerfuffle over Google buses in San Francisco (previously) and accusations of snobbery by San Francisco resident, bestselling author, and Perkins' own ex-wife Danielle Steel (who he describes as "our number-one celebrity"), Perkins asks "Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?" [more inside]
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?,” Sandberg asks women in the opening chapter of Lean In. She obviously does not work in journalism (as my wife does) or academia (as I used to), let alone manufacturing. The question for most American women, and for most families, is much simpler: “How do I survive?” Sandberg’s book has been compared with feminist classics like The Feminine Mystique, but it really belongs in the category of capitalist fantasy, a tradition that originated with Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help and was popularized by the novels of Horatio Alger. The success of Lean In can be attributed, at least in part, to its comforting espousal of an obviously false hope: that hard work and talent alone can now take you to the top. This is pure balderdash, for women and men. Class structures have seized to the point where Denmark has more social mobility than the United States. The last myth to die in America will be the myth of pluck; Lean In is the most recent testament to its power.
Dan Grover and Mike Belfrage have mapped transit inequality in the Bay Area after reading a New Yorker piece on the New York City subway (previously). The ways in which a widening income gap are changing the demography of San Francisco have been widely reported of late (previously, previously). The project's code is available if you'd like to try mapping your own city.
DEAR AMERICA: You Should Be Mad As Hell About This. Here is a helpful series of excellent visual aids that shed light on the state of our current American socioeconomy.
Feminism's Uneven Success: "Class and racial and ethnic differences among women have intensified over time. The higher earnings of college-educated mothers make it possible for them to purchase child care and help with housework (typically performed by low-wage women workers)... the number of low-skill immigrants living in a large city reduces the tradeoff between employment and fertility for women college graduates. Outsourcing of care responsibilities can have many positive effects, but it reduces the potential for cross-class gender coalitions. Emphasis on changes in women’s average or median earnings relative to men often conceals growing inequality among women." (via)
The Rise of the New Global Elite The new global elite are fabulously wealthy, cosmopolitan, philanthrocapitalist, entrepreneurial, highly driven, frequently self-made, and confident they deserve their success. They are also often unsympathetic to the middle classes of the developed world. Said one senior executive: "...if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty [and] one American drops out of the middle class...that's not such a bad trade."
"The rich are different than you and me." A new study out of the Harvard Business School suggests that frequent use of luxury goods and services may encourage a narrower, more self-interested view of the world. Here's a link to the report itself. (Achtung! it's a PDF.)
There's been plenty of politically partisan debate about who or what ultimately caused the real estate crash that triggered the recent US financial crisis. One popular view blames "the Democrats and their efforts to expand homeownership to people who, in some cases, may not have been quite ready for it." But contrary to this view, new data strongly suggests that throughout the real estate collapse, the rich have actually been defaulting on mortgages for strategic reasons at much higher rates than the huddled masses. [more inside]
A new U.S. Treasury Report (press release) reports that tax returns from 1996 to 2005 show that income mobility in the U.S. is "considerable," with rising earnings, and top earners who often stumble. The WSJ crows. Pew releases its own research (reports, press release) on income inequality today with a multi-decade outlook, but summarizes the findings as that American families' income mobility is still highly dependent on their parents' position. Forbes and a The New Republic blog try to reconcile the reports. Meanwhile, blacks appear to be downwardly mobile.