Posted by: philipfontana | October 25, 2012

America’s Classes

                                                  America’s Classes

                                                             &

                                       An Emerging National Emergency

     Excuse us for living, but we the oldest of the Baby Boomers, born in 1946, have seen our country at its best. We grew up in the 1950’s and the 1960’s were our “coming of age” years. We have as the bookends of our lives the Great Depression and World War II on the one end and September 11, the Afghan and Iraq Wars and the Great Recession on the other end. And what represents the future of America and where we are headed may just be hinted at in the Occupy protest movement. It is in that movement that we can see the frustrated outgrowth and result of America’s classes today and an emerging national emergency.

Image

   It began as “Occupy Wall Street” in New York City’s Zucotti Park, September 17, 2011. Quickly it spread by October 9 to Occupy protests in over 95 cities & 82 countries.

     Richard Florida is the author of a new book, The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, published in September 2012. He is a professor at both the University of Toronto and New York University as well as senior editor of The Atlantic. In that book Richard Florida describes America’s post-industrial society as having three main classes instead of the more traditional version attributed to Karl Marx as the capitalists vs. the working class. The author breaks down American society as follows:

1. The blue-collar working class: 26 million, 20+ % of the work force (down from 50% in the 1950’s).

2. The service class: 60 million, 47% of the work force, the largest class and worst paid. – – food services, janitorial, childcare, eldercare, clerical and routine administrative.

3. The creative class: 40 million, 33% of the work force, earning 50% of all wages and salaries in the U.S., and controlling 70% of discretionary income.

Florida argues that while both presidential candidates accuse each other of “stooping to class warfare,” neither candidate is addressing the problem. America has become class-ridden. He goes on to describe how “this widening class divide” has become “one of the nation’s gravest dangers.”

The author goes on to show us how it is the division of classes that shapes most aspects of our American daily life: red vs. blue states, Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives, secular vs. faith based, smoking, obesity, fitness, dental care, gun violence. In essence, America’s deepening class divide affects every facet of our lives. It influences beyond wealth and health, but virtually what we think and believe.

Richard Florida’s prescription is that we need a new economic and jobs policy. He says we must upgrade over 60 million low-wage service jobs. To do so, he concludes, we must “invest in and cultivate the full talents of all workers as the source of higher wages, improved competitiveness and greater growth.” He then declares, “We’re running out of time.”

What Richard Florida is saying is not new and has been repeated throughout history and the ages. The most blatant example in the extreme is the French Revolution of 1789. It is replete with images of the radical Robespierre, the guillotine, the rise of the bourgeoisie or middle class, just to name a few. The most accurate term that describes the process is not one that endears many. It is the redistribution of wealth. The subject can be argued and fought over but its eventual triumph must emerge and always does. For, without the periodic redistribution of wealth the masses will not settle down so that society may go forward with economic productivity in an orderly fashion.

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   VJ-Day, August 14, 1945, Times Square, New York City. This is the famous photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt of the sailor & the white-clad young woman.

     Excuse us for living, but those of us Baby Boomers can give witness to our more civil redistribution of wealth in our lifetime. It was known informally as the G.I. Bill after World War II. Formally named the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, it provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans. Benefits included low-cost mortgages, loans to start a business or farm, cash payments for tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school, or vocational education. By the end of the program in 1956, 2.2 million veterans used the G.I. Bill to attend college and 6.6 million more used the benefits for some kind of training.

Thus, Americans were given a path to move up the ladder and into the middle class via the G.I. Bill. Richard Florida is right! We need a new policy, new legislation or a series of new laws, perhaps tied to some kind of national service, to lift Americans up and out of the lower classes and into the dreams of the middle class and upper middle class and beyond. May America find its way once again!

     Comments: Please!

Sources: Daily Record, a Gannett newspaper of Morris County, New Jersey, article by Richard Florida, September, 2012.

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Responses

  1. I surely appreciate your use of history because often we know history repeats itself. A different class structure viewpoint is interesting and certainly has merit. All the discussion of education, jobs, skills in post-WWII is surely what we can use today, and I personally believe all this points to the need for tax reform. We’ve heard that for years, but I fear we have one do-nothing Congress after another. I suspect new leadership has at least a fair chance of getting something in tax reform accomplished. I also favor capitalism over socialism. We need growth and economic expansion as we had post-WWII and really, it’s all about jobs.

    • Rusty, Your comments are well taken. Are you sure that was English major & not history? –Must have been some good RU history & poli sci classes thrown in there as electives &/or required! As Americans, our class structure just “happens.” But over the course of American history there have been events & legislation changing the equation that have given the poor & the middle class a boost: e.g., Lincoln’s Landgrant Colleges (RU!!!), the Labor Movement, the New Deal programs, the GI Bill. Agreed re capitalism over socialism. But capitalism does take ideas from socialism which affect the redistribution of wealth which is necessary from time to time. And now is one of those times with the middle class slowly losing ground since the early 1970’s! Who realized that? And you are right-on that we must replace the do-nothing Congress with a can-do Congress
      starting with tax reform & jobs. Good exchange here! Thanks! Phil

  2. Phil, I was just thinking this morning that we need to re-focus our educational system to prepare people for the “creative class.” I didn’t use that term, but I was thinking of the jobs that use the brain and not brawn. Most of the “service jobs” that involve children and the elderly (not me, yet…) are low paying. It’s like the old story that a million-dollar enterprise called The Newspaper used to use low-paid, pre-teen boys to distribute the product. We trust our children and parents to low-paid, under-educated (in some cases) people, and then, in the case of kids, throw a couple of tests at them to see if they are “learning.” The curriculum should contain many courses on critical thinking, creative thinking, the life of the mind, to prepare them for non-physical, non-labor jobs that are going elsewhere. As usual, your blog is right on the money. (too bad you’re not getting paid for it!)

    • Chip, Many thanks for your “well thought comments” & kind words about Excuse Us… YOU are tight on the money & so is President Obama. It’s all about education to move people up the escalator of life! Hey, that was a good one that just slipped out! What my blog & we are saying is that we must find ways to do so! The answer may not be monolithic but multifaceted programs, Federal, State, or otherwise. Also, in the last debate, Obama made a point of correcting Romney that research & development was too big an item for just the private sector & that the federal government must play a major role. –That involves the universities AND the private sector working together!!! –If you & I had the energy & years left to collaborate in some way, we could change this country & world to be a better place. With respect & regard for your words, Phil

  3. One thing I don’t understand is the number of homeless who are veterans. When my uncle came back from the Vietnam War, he was extremely well taken care of by the military: four years of college on the GI Bill, low interest rates when he bought his home, car, boat, and RV, ongoing monthly payments from the government, and burial in a national cemetery when he died a few years ago.

    The monthly payments part is interesting. I have to presume that those stopped sometime in the distant past because his monthly payment would definitely be enough to live on, even here in San Diego.

  4. Russel, As a Vietnam Veteran myself, drafted in 1969, & served as a Military Policeman there in 1970, I am familiar with all the benefits you speak of re you uncle. I enjoyed some of the same benefits going for my MA & buying a house. The monthly benefits I did not get. Those payments were for those with combat disabilities or 20 year lifers’ pensions. And as for burial benefits, I am still waiting!!!!!!!!!!!! Ha! Phil

  5. Phil, this one really strikes a cord for me. Redistribution of wealth can come in many forms from increasing worker wages to providing for a quality education all the way through college. These are just some of the things that can be done to improve the quality of life for the working man and make America great again. Unfortunately, time and time again our government shoots us in the foot as we have seen with the failure of trickle-down economics and the numerous trade agreements that have pushed our manufacturing base and jobs overseas. Let’s hope that the partisan bickering in Washington subsides before it is too late. By the way if you haven’t read it, The Crash of 2016 by Thom Hartmann is an excellent book discussing how we got to where we are today and what the likely result of it will be by revisiting America’s history.

    • Dom, First, thanks for all your “Likes” & looking/reading around the campus here on “Excuse Us…”! Yes, this post, “America’s Classes…” led to my “Changing America” post with Bob Herbert’s book & his idea for a “Citizen’s Movement.” Such a movement would, hopefully, bring all parts of America in need forward to address everyone’s needs. These posts along with the post “Inequality” on Thomas Piketty’s book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” went a long way toward addressing the concerns you raise. As you said so well above here, distribution of wealth is the answer. And again as you said, it can come in many forms. I go nuts when I hear the “uniformed” cry socialism when they don’t know what they are talking about. There is a big difference between a program that borrows from socialism or is a socialistic program & the entire government being a socialistic form of government. “Trickle-down” is an old joke. Trade agreements are the tough one to balance in this global economy, again as you say, to protect our manufacturing & jobs. Even Teddy Roosevelt & his hand picked replacement, William Howard Taft, had to fight the Republican conservatives 1905-1910 to reform the protective tariff. Hartmann’s book, “The Crash of 2016,” may be one of the book reviews I’ve saved. Thanks for your recommendation. Great exchange here! And it was a fine piece of work you wrote that got us going here. Thank you, Dom. Phil

  6. Reblogged this on ' Ace History News ' and commented:
    Nice post Phil thanks for heads up really great work 👍


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