Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why The Working Class Is Invisible In Recent Political Campaigns

Unemployed working class men during Depression line up for gruel in this artist's depiction.

According to a recent New York Times piece (Aug 13, p. A9)  the American working class is essentially off the radar in the current election cycle. While both candidates pay much lip service to helping the middle class climb up the economic ladder, they have nary a word to say about the millions trying to reach it. Nor do they have a lot to say about the tens of thousands falling through cracks in the bottom  floor of the middle class into the realm of the proletariat each year.

But this isn't new, and anyone who's been paying attention for the last 30 years can tell you that the marginalization actually commenced with the rise of Neoliberalism in the 80s. Robert McChesney in his excellent book, The Problem of the Media, Monthly Review Press, 2004, p. 49, writes:

"With the election of Ronald Reagan, the neoliberal movement had commenced. Neoliberal ideology became hegemonic not only among Republicans but also in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Joseph Liebermann. Differences remained on timing and specifics, but on core issues both parties agreed that business was the rightful ruler over society"

McChesney shows the Democrats are their own worst enemies - seeking to advance a misbegotten, pro-business agenda even at the expense of losing many of their base, the working class. One can understand it with the naturally business-friendly Republicans, but not with the Dems who grew their original political DNA with FDR and the New Deal.

But the fact is both parties are tone deaf to working class needs, and as the Times put it, quoting one political observer regarding the word "housing":

"It was pretty shocking not to hear the word uttered on the main stage of either convention"


"The silence is particularly striking because the problem is growing. There is not a single state where a full time worker earning the minimum wage can rent a market rate one bedroom apartment for 30 percent or less of their income"

This, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In Denver, for example, the average monthly rent has now reached $1700 -  way more than most of the current residents can afford.  Many  dwellers in originally low rent apartments are issued notices they have to leave for "renovations" then are invited back after but with a 50% rent increase- which is way beyond their means.

In some apartments, like the Spartan Court in Capitol Hill, a formal eviction notice isn't needed, only the notice of rent increase, say from $575 /month to $975/month. That amounts to what one enraged resident said is a "quiet movement":

Add in a family calamity like a child's illness, a bread winner's serious disease or injury, and there is a rather rapid descent into homelessness or at least trying to survive in homeless shelters.
average $1700 but way more than the current residents can afford. So, though they have been invited back after the renovations, the 50% increase is way beyond their means.

Michael Lee, 38, looks at a water bottle his daughter Kayah Lee, 6, brought back as her mom, Cristal Olko, 32, and sister, Kemani Lee, 3, look on at the

A homeless family crowds into a corner of an Aurora, CO shelter. A food shortage at the shelter meant it had to seek outside assistance

In regard to Section 8 vouchers (available to assist low income households) Denver currently has about 6,800 such federal subsidies, and holds a lottery every fall to award 700 to 1000. But let's get real here, having a decent place to live which one can afford shouldn't depend on a damned lottery.  The situation is as bad or worse in other cities such as Miami, and San Francisco, eliciting the question of why there was no mention of the problem at least at the Dem convention.

Here in Colorado Springs the  affordable housing situation isn't much better. The median home price at $262,500 - while less than Denver's ($345,000)  - is still beyond the reach of service sector workers. The mean apartment rent has spiked to $991/ month,  leaving many others in the cold. Right now it is estimated (Colorado Springs Independent, p. 25) the city - for its median income level - has an estimated 24,513 shortfall in affordable units.

Meanwhile, struggling families often have to resort to last hope sources such as the Women's, Infants and Children's food program since many are even booted from TANF ('Temporary Aid For Needy Families') because they cannot always make appointments owing to lack of a car, or bus access. It is a vile and ridiculous vicious circle but at least one passionate local Dem candidate (for County Commissioner, District 3) is addressing it. Her name is Electra Johnson. Her point is spot on (COS Independent, p. 20):

"As a society, we're not supporting people, then we're bitching when they end up in the system. We need to take better care of each other."

Ms. Johnson, needless to say, takes a fierce stand on affordable housing as a civic obligation. Would that more Dems running for office did so. Sadly, she also seems to realize that our leaders - even Dems  - don't have our best interests at heart. The British psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe has described this as a  "coming of age" for citizens' political -social consciousness. Basically, finally accepting the painful realization that "our leaders are not looking after us....we are not cared for at the level of our very survival".

Electra Johnson also comprehends this meme as she has vowed to fight on for affordable housing in EL Paso County, CO irrespective of whether she wins or loses in the Nov. 8 election. She understands she can't afford to wait for a "Dino" or Neolib savior to solve it.

A further insight on these issues was provided in the Times article by Prof. Kathryn Edin of Johns Hopkins University. She emphasized it was particularly important to focus on the plight of families without regular income - like those more or less bound to the "gig"economy.   Running around doing chump change errands for 'Task Rabbit' or some other five and dime variant of the Neolib's dream workforce.

Prof. Edin was especially leery of the 1996 "welfare to work" deal between the Clinton administration and congressional Repukes to curtail  cash benefits for needy families. In her estimation it "left those without jobs behind". Many of those also were single mothers who could not afford the cost of child care - in order to find work apart from their kids. While EU nations- many of them - provide such care and do it as part of public policy, in the U.S. the single mom is expected to do it all on her own.

As Prof. Edin puts it (ibid.):
"When you can't pay the utility bill, you can't pay the rent, and you can't buy socks and underwear for your kids how much does the fact you have a Medicaid card really do for you?"

Well, not much. Edin indicated she'd hoped the 20th anniversary of the "end of welfare" might spark debates and discussion but all she's heard is deafening silence.
Not really surprising when you consider Trump is a billionaire who has no use for the hoi polloi other than as voters and Hillary herself- is in the upper one tenth of one percent in income. "Far above the $2 million a year level" according to the Times.  And while Hillary did make the more or less obligatory whistle stops in Detroit and Scranton, PA it was mainly to talk about bringing back middle class jobs. For example, in Warren, MI she chose to speak at Futuramic Tool & Engineering - which makes automobile parts and also for the F-35 fighter jet.

In none of her stops did she drop a syllable about service jobs and the struggles to make ends meet by low wage workers who perform those thankless jobs. Again, it is as if these people, these citizens, do not exist.

If there is aa mention or reference, it is usually to help the workers or working class members hurt by globalization more than the retail worker stuck in a low wage rut. (And let's beware the recent op eds in certain elements of the rightist and financial press about "upper mobility'" don't pass the basic tests of statistics to even be worthy of discussion).

According to Jared Bernstein an economist at the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (ibid.):

"We have to be mindful of where those displaced manufacturing workers have ended up which is the low wage service sector".

Of course, before that they were prodded to do computer studies to advance their skills to get "better jobs". That was some 6 years ago before those remaining middle and low end techie jobs were fared out to Indian workers in Bangalore.

It was George P. Brockway in his 'End of Economic Man' who noted that  ultimately our choice as a society is to reward either markets and speculators or the commonweal based on "Main Street". So far, we've made mainly the wrong choices and allowed the market to dictate our future and quality of life.

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