Monday, September 24, 2012

The Underclass

Two quick hits:
The United States is caught in a vicious cycle largely of its own making. Rising income inequality is breeding more inequality in educational opportunity, which results in greater inequality in educational attainment. That, in turn, undermines the intergenerational mobility upon which Americans have always prided themselves and perpetuates income inequality from generation to generation.

This dynamic all but guarantees a permanent underclass. Indeed, the process is already under way: An American child’s future income is already more dependent on his or her parents’ income than a child born in most other developed countries.
Income Inequality and Educational Opportunity (Economix, NYT)

And for this cohort, trapped in poverty, their life span is actually shrinking:
Researchers have long documented that the most educated Americans were making the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting. Four studies in recent years identified modest declines, but a new one that looks separately at Americans lacking a high school diploma found disturbingly sharp drops in life expectancy for whites in this group. Experts not involved in the new research said its findings were persuasive.

The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance.

The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008, said S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs. By 2008, life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of white women of the same education level, the study found.

White men lacking a high school diploma lost three years of life. Life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the data showed. But blacks over all do not live as long as whites, while Hispanics live longer than both whites and blacks.

“We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling,” said John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging, who was not involved in the new study.
Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S. (NYT)

To repeat: this is what collapse looks like. As Naked Capitalism opined, the U.S. is looking more and more like post-Soviet Russia. Lowered birth rates and shortened life spans constitute a die-off as much as any apocalyptic event. The first article also notes the social collapse amoung households which are single-parent families and stuck in poverty because of it (because a household now requires two people to work to be affluent, thanks to the dynamic of the modern economy). Is it surprising that poor whites are reacting exactly the same as blacks when their family-supporting jobs were exported and automated and replaced with minimum wage service labor?

Thanks to our aversion to 'socialism', children are now confined to a permanent underclass because of the mistakes of their parents. As someone who has been fighting against the mistakes of their parents for their entire life, I can speak from experience about how the United States is nowhere near the best place to overcome that dynamic.

Of course, there is an unstated assumption that this is not the express goal. That sorting people by income, denying them jobs unless they have degrees that cost thousands of dollars and withholding medical care so that they die sooner is not by design on the part of elites. In fact, everything in the U.S. from how we inhabit the landscape to expensive select colleges is designed to keep people in the exact same class they were born into. These things are not to help people move up the ladder - they are designed to keep them right were they are. Otherwise college would be subsidized (as it is in many other countries), and the quality of your education and your social peers would not be determined exclusively by what ZIP code you live in and how much mortgage the bank will loan you.

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