Friday, March 30, 2018

Roseanne reboot: the white working-class exposure that Americans need

In case you've been living under a rock and haven't caught one of the million promos, I have a very important announcement: Roseanne is back on network TV.

I'll admit that I never watched Roseanne when it originally aired from 1988 to 1997. However, the show was wildly popular in its time, and was lauded for its realistic portrayal of a white, working-class family. The show's creator, Matt Williams, and its star, Roseanne Barr, both grew up working class. The intent of the sitcom, was to "represent the people [they] grew up with - without condescending - and basically celebrate [a] working-class family with a husband and wife who loved each other."  The titular character, Roseanne Connor, started the series as a factory worker and cycled through a number of working-class jobs when the show was on the air. Her husband, Dan, was an on-again off-again contractor who also tried his hand at numerous working-class jobs as the seasons progressed. The couple was raising a family with a tight budget in a working-class exurb of Chicago, they voted for Reagan, and they were overweight (anathema in Hollywood, even today). While the Roseanne portrayed a more conservative family, it still tackled a number of issues that were edgy for its time: feminism, abortion, homosexuality, racial prejudice, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual dysfunction were all addressed on the show. 

The revival of Roseanne comes at an opportune time. While there have been a number of TV shows featuring working-class families in the past, few such shows are on TV today (even in the so-called golden age of television). This is especially surprising giving the renewed focus on the white working class in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Due to lots of promotion by ABC, and perhaps due to great timing, the premiere of the new season had blockbuster ratings, drawing 18.2 million viewers. The show has already been renewed for an additional season after just 2 episodes. 

The response hasn't been all positive. Roseanne (the real person) has always been somewhat of a controversial figure, but she drew renewed derision from liberal media and commentators after publicly announcing her support for Donald Trump. Her Trumpian leanings have even carried over to her TV persona: in the first episode of the new season, it's revealed that Roseanne Connor is a Trump supporter. While liberals aren't fond of these developments, at least one person was tickled by the news. President Trump himself personally congratulated Roseanne on the premiere's success. 

Roseanne isn't the only show to make a triumphant return to TV in the age of Trump. Will & Grace, a show about two gay men and their "fag hags" living in NYC also returned to TV this year. Will & Grace was a show I definitely watched growing up, and I've also watched every episode of the new season. It's proudly and profoundly anti-Trump. The only Trump supporters on the show are Karen, the wildly rich and ridiculously absurd socialite, and a random Nazi who buys a swastika cake to bring to a party for Trump. The show is comfort food for liberals (I'll admit, I continue to love its campiness and gay in-jokes). The main characters are liberal elites and every episode is basically an echo chamber for liberal ideas. No one who watches Will & Grace is outside of their comfort zone. 

So why did I decide to watch the Roseanne reboot? Well, perhaps because of what I am currently learning in White Working Class & the Law, I wanted to see how white working-class Trump voters would be portrayed on TV today when not being treated as the butt of tragicomic jokes. I was pleasantly surprised.

The two episodes I watched were absolutely fantastic. Roseanne (the character) is indeed a Trump voter, but she is far from one-dimensional. In fact, she's complex... as I imagine the majority of Trump voters are. The first episode opens with Roseanne and Dan bemoaning the increased price of their many prescriptions, a struggle faced by working families everywhere. Their kids have returned home, and they are struggling with low incomes and joblessness. Along with the kids come grandkids, who are quite a surprise. One granddaughter is black, and a grandson is exploring the gender spectrum (wearing girls clothing to school). Dan and Roseanne are concerned, not that the grandson could be gay or transgender, but that he will be bullied at school. 

As far as politics are concerned, Roseanne is feuding with her sister Jackie, a stereotypical Hillary Clinton supporter who makes her debut on screen wearing a pink pussy hat and a "nasty-woman" t-shirt. This is a family dynamic I expect is playing out in families across America.  While they don't agree on much, the show hints at possible common ground. One storyline focuses on daughter Becky's decision to serve as a surrogate to make some extra money... both Roseanne (who is less-than-thrilled) and Jackie agree that the decision is Becky's to make because it's "her body, her choice."

While the show has a decidedly political bent, it maintains its humor without bitterness. It portrays Trump voters, not as bigots or idiots, but as regular folks who voted for someone they thought would "shake things up." Even though I personally abhor Trump, I found myself laughing ... and genuinely liking the Connor family. Perhaps shows like Roseanne are just what is needed today to help bridge the gap between liberal and conservative Americans - to see each other a regular people, rather than strangers or ideological opponents. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Attitudes toward college

Traditionally American families viewed higher education as the pathway to success and prosperity. In order to achieve a high standard of living and move up the social ladder, individuals were encouraged to acquire specialized knowledge and skills. And the only means of acquiring these assets was to attend an institution of higher learning. Thus, families encouraged their children to attend college and work hard to graduate. After students finished their undergraduate education, many families also encouraged their children to attend graduate and professional school, so that they could further hone their specialized skill sets.

However, in recent years some Americans have begun to question the value proposition of a college education. And some groups within American society such as the white working class have adopted a relatively negative attitude about higher education. Rather than view colleges as the gateway to the American dream, many white working class Americans now believe it is immaterial to achieving social mobility. The reported cases of college graduates working minimum wage jobs after graduation only reinforces their belief that college is not worth it.
Today, only 12% of low paying jobs are held by teenagers, while adults make up 60% of them. Also, only 20% of such workers had attended some college in 1979 while today, it's 33%. In essence, people working at a McDonald's (MCD), Burger King (BKW) or Wendy's (WEN) are older and more educated but earning some of the lowest wages in the economy.
Furthermore the rising cost of higher education has led many working class Americans to feel that college may actually hinder one’s ability to achieve social mobility in their life time. The money borrowed to attend a university not only continuously accumulates interest from the time its issued to the borrower, but it is also considered nondischargeable debt. Thus, student loans must be paid back regardless of the employment opportunities available to graduates. Even if a person declares bankruptcy in their lifetime, their student loan debt will not be forgiven.  
It’s 2018 and Americans are more burdened by student loan debt than ever. You’ve probably heard the statistics: Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt spread out among about 44 million borrowers, that’s about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has about $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from the previous year.
According to Joan C. William, the white working class resents the professional class and by extension higher education institutions, because they perceive them as arrogant and lacking social honor. Williams further states that white working-class families often fear their children will reject their beliefs and ideals after receiving a college education. Thus, white working-class families do not push their children into higher education unlike middle-class and upper-class families.

However, it seems to me that working-class communities still need college educated professionals in order for their communities to function properly. For example, these communities still need health care professionals to care for the population, they still need legal professionals to help resolve disputes, and they still need managerial professionals to guide large scale manufacturing and assembly operations. Also, for these communities to obtain much needed investment capital and to gain more jobs, professionals must have a place within the community. After all the opening of a new hospital or law firm creates hundreds of new positions to be filled by members of the community.  

Since it is common knowledge that college educated individuals are vital to the normal operation of a community, why do working-class families still discourage their children from attending university? Would the attitude of the white working-class towards college change, if it were more affordable and thus more accessible to all individuals?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The fractionalization triggered by the pseudoscience of "white privilege"

Trying to remedy the effects of past racism has only guaranteed its perpetual existence. Identifying "white privilege" in the color of bandaids available at the pharmacy, or the efficacy of hotel shampoo on the texture of a user’s hair, is not a cure for racism. It’s like shooting Americans with race heroin.

The phrase “white privilege” comes with a host of negative connotations. Judging someone based on the color of their skin without any basis is the very definition of racism. Yet when stereotypes and prejudices are placed upon whites under the pejorative phrase “white privilege” it is presented as social science rather than racism.

That is why Ta-Nehisi Coates is so misguided, or maybe, so devious. He is a professional race baiter. Without racism he would be out of a job, as would Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Colorblindness is not their goal, far from it. They aim to sensationalize and codify America’s racial divisions.

That’s why Coates writes that besides Barack Obama, each of “Trump’s predecessors made their way into office through the passive power of whiteness[.]” According to Coates, the achievement of Trump and 43 of his 44 predecessors is diminished by the color of their skin. The implication is that there is a hierarchy of virtue, with historically oppressed minorities at the top, and white men at the bottom.

In another passage, Coates identifies Trump as a beneficiary of identity politics and brands the media as complicit for ignoring it. He contrasts the 61% of whites making between $50,000-90,000 who voted for Trump, with the 11% of black voters in the same income band who did so as evidence for his proposition. According to Coates, when a majority of whites vote for the same reason it is evidence of racist and malicious identity politics.

However, when 90% of black voters select the same candidate is it is apparently a benign use of informed self-interest. Coates scoffs at working-class whites for voting against their self-interest. Yet he completely ignores the lack of progress blacks have made voting almost uniformly for Democratic candidates over the past 50 years. He might be correct when he writes that Trump is not doing much for the 60 percent of white-working class voters who supported him. Yet he completely glosses over the lack of progress for African-Americans under Barack Obama.

In the world Coates inhabits it is inconceivable that a majority of Trump voters might have selected him for reasons other than race. Of course, that is farcical. While some Trump voters were likely motivated by racist impulses, many others voted for religious, economic, social, foreign policy, and national security reasons, amongst others.

Many voters likely selected Trump in spite of his perceived racism. It’s even possible to imagine a race conscious voter selecting the candidate who spoke about bringing manufacturing jobs to America to spur inner-city growth over the candidate who once called young, urban criminals “super predators.”

Whiteness in America may have one time been considered property, perpetuated with Jim Crow laws, and rubber stamped by our courts. However, that time has passed.

I hope that all Americans believe that any law that discriminates against a racial minority is odious to our national mores. There are a number of statutes designed to protect against racial discrimination, and I hope that further protections are enacted to that effect.

I hope we aggressively prosecute violators of these laws. If you can point out an example, I will be the first to condemn them. Private and government causes of action exist for racial discrimination in employment, lending, higher education, and a multitude of other fields. Government organizations like E-RACE aid in the investigation and prosecution of violators.

But that is not the aim of these racial flamethrowers. Over 50 years after the erosion of Jim Crow, these activists seek to enact new racial codifications in our legal code. However, this time, instead of whiteness, blackness will be the valuable property.

Just as whiteness might have opened the door for college or job applicants 50 years ago, progressive advocates now seek to convey a similar advantage onto blackness. Affirmative action programs are one example of a benefit that activists seek to confer upon black skin. In a 2014 article for the Atlantic, Coates advocated for the most aggressive valuation of blackness, reparations.

America’s shameful history of horrifically mistreating African-Americans is undebatable. However, placing the costs for that history on the shoulders of a generation of innocents is misguided. It creates an awareness and sensitivity towards racial differences that otherwise would not exist. It also triggers racial animus amongst both blacks and whites who have naturally divergent interests in the property value of their skin colors.

A 2016 Marist poll on reparations found that only 24% of Americans believed the government should pay all African-American citizens for past racial discrimination. However, the poll was sharply divided amongst racial lines. While a mere 11% of white Americans support reparations, an overwhelming 63% of African Americans support them. The same poll found that 69% of Americans believe that slavery and racial discrimination are a part of history but it is time to move beyond it, compared to only 27% who believe that it’s a wrong that the government still needs to make right.

Most troubling, these movements often trade on misleading facts to conjure discriminatory intent where it does not exist. According to much of the media, white cops kill innocent blacks with impunity. However, this does not account for a variety of factors including the situations in which blacks and whites tend to encounter law enforcement. Professor Peter Moskos of John Jay College found that given an equal threat level, a white person is actually more likely than a black person to be shot by police.

Another example of “white privilege” commonly proffered is that whites are exempted from predatory traffic stops by supposedly racist police. A Public Service Research Institute study tracked nearly 40,000 drivers on the New Jersey turnpike. Its results found that African-Americans made up 16 percent of the drivers on the turnpike but constituted 25 percent of the speeders.

The study concluded that African-American drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to speed, and even more likely to speed at reckless levels. However, African-Americans were only pulled over 23 percent of the time – less than their speeding habits would predict. Although African-Americans are more likely than whites to be pulled over or killed by police on a per capita basis, when taking into account an equal risk level, their treatment by law enforcement is remarkably similar.

Empowering individuals and government organizations to investigate and prosecute tangible examples of discrimination is the best method to erase racism from society. Almost 70% of Americans believe it is time to move past America’s racial history. Codifying racial differences will only maintain the divisions that have plagued America since inception. The late economist and former president of Clark College Vivian W. Henderson might have said it best when he opined that “any efforts to treat blacks separately from the rest of the nation are likely to lead to frustration, heightened racial animosities, and a waste of the country’s resources and the precious resources of black people.

America can never be colorblind or move past racial divisions if we simply flip the script and start defining whiteness pejoratively to balance out years of doing the same to blackness. Identifying discrimination and stamping it out, rather than promoting it under a different name is the answer. Hopefully we can each help in the fight to eliminate discrimination, regardless of the form.

For an interesting discussion of the relationship between “white privilege” and “class privilege” click here. I subscribe to the idea that “class privilege” is a relevant conception, which scholars should consider when analyzing societal trends. To learn about the awkwardness academics have faced from "white privilege" hawks when promoting class privilege click here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The myth of white privilege on college campuses

One hundred four Historical Black Colleges and Universities (“HBCU”) remain in the United States. Non-black students make up a mere 17% of the enrolment at these institutions. According to Women’s Studies scholar Peggy McIntosh however, only whites have the privilege of finding “academic courses and institutions which give attention [solely] to people of [one] race.” According to McIntosh, this is yet another one of the insidious benefits granted to whites, all emanating from the great bogeyman, white privilege.

I admittedly have only attended two institutions of higher learning. Nevertheless, in my experience, McIntosh’s “invisible knapsack of white privilege” could not be further from the truth. My alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, is less than 50 percent white and has built diversity studies into the core of their curriculum.

Graduates of Penn must complete seven sector and six foundational policy requirements to graduate. One can complete the sector requirements with traditional history, literature, math and science courses. The foundational requirements, on the other hand, require students to take a course in cross-cultural analysis and another in the cultural diversity of the United States. Courses such as “Homelessness & Urban Inequality,” “Psychoeducational Interactions with Black Males,” and “Intro to Queer Studies” fulfill these requirements.

Penn isn’t special. Similar requirements exist at universities across the country. After all, Penn is only ranked as the 21st most diverse institution amongst the top 100 American universities.

HBCUs make up 30 percent of the ten least diverse American universities. Predominantly white public schools in the racially homogenous states of South Dakota, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Maine make up another 40 percent. The least diverse, Yeshiva University, is a Jewish school. So where are all these academic courses and institutions providing sole attention to whites?

I will concede that courses in English literature and many history courses are focused on the exploits of whites. I know, it’s shocking that a course focused on English literature would be dominated by white authors from a time when England was almost 100% white and the only English speaking country on the planet. European history is naturally dominated by whites because Europe is predominantly Caucasian. Similarly, courses in Chinese literature or African literature naturally focus on black and Asian authors.
Schools such as Stanford have bowed to pressure from black activists like Jesse Jackson and cancelled its Western Civilization courses. Apparently Stanford’s administration subscribes to the statement “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go.”

If we shouldn’t study Western Civilization because of slavery and the mistreatment of minorities, is there any history that should be studied? We will not have many historical subjects left to study if we exclude societies that enslaved and victimized others, because slavery and mistreatment of minorities was practiced almost universally during much of world history.

Specialized courses still exist in the subjects once broadly covered in Western Civilization classes. However, thumbing through Stanford’s History Department course catalog, more courses focus on progressive subjects like “Transhistory: Gender Diversity from Medieval to Modern,” “Sugar and Slavery, Race and Revolution: The Caribbean 1450-1888,” and “Gay Autobiography” than traditional ones such as “Renaissance to Revolution: Early Modern Europe.”

The one group notably omitted from the history offerings at Stanford is the white, male, American worker. A course on the works of Howard Zinn focuses on holocaust denial and the Obama “birther” conspiracy, but inexplicably excludes any mention of workers. You can even take a course on the history of East Asian cinema, or another focusing on female divinities in China.

It’s not that East Asian Cinema, transgender history and Caribbean slavery aren’t important subjects in history, it’s that they are included, at the exclusion of a course on the white, American worker. Placing an emphasis on cross-cultural understanding has not helped students appreciate views they disagree with. A 2017 poll by the Brookings Institute found that 51% of American college students believe that it is acceptable for student groups to disrupt disagreeable speech by shouting the speaker down. According to the same poll, 53% of college students support prohibiting certain speech and viewpoints that are offensive to certain groups of students, rather than fostering an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints.

Most troubling of all, 19% of American college students believe that it is acceptable for student groups to use violence to prevent speakers who they oppose from speaking. Let that soak in for a minute. Nearly 1 in 5 American college students believe that it is acceptable to use physical violence against a speaker because a student group finds the speaker offensive. Are we in the United States, the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany?
Modern universities offer more than just diverse student bodies and course offerings, they offer university sponsored organizations and “safe spaces” dedicated to minority groups. These groups provide counseling and community for individuals who might feel out of place on a university campus. They often cater to racial groups such as African-Americans and other minorities, like the LGBT community.

These groups perform an important service on college campuses. However, they can alienate those who are not apart of the designated group. Moreover, equivalent groups often do not exist for other groups that might also feel out of place on a college campus, like first generation rural students.

Who is going to feel most out of place at Colombia: The African-American guy from Harlem, the gay guy from the Upper East Side, or the farm boy from Montana? Yet only the farm boy will be without a safe space for counseling and community.

Not only do whites not possess any unique access to institutions or courses focused on their race, they are actually marginalized by certain organizations. Further, they even face a disadvantage during the application process in the form of affirmative action. According to college counselor Ann Lee, black applicants receive an average “bonus” of 230 points over white applicants on their SAT score in college admission programs that employ affirmative action, while Hispanics receive a “bonus” of 185 points.

I am not trying to say “woe is me, I’m a white guy.” I will admit that I received advantages in life that the average American will not. However, I believe that has less to do with the color of my skin than with socioeconomic status. I had a two-parent home and a support system that emphasized education. I went to a private elementary school, had private tutors every week in high school, and even got sent to nerd camp for a couple summers on the east coast.

Diversity is important, and I do think there is some validity to the argument that white Americans accrue certain benefits based on the color of their skin. The fact that discrimination still lingers in some walks of life is deplorable and must be eradicated. However, there is no sense in creating white privilege where it does not already exist. A white student will have no easier time finding a school or course that focuses solely on his race than a black one.
I believe this is a symptom of racial scholars and racial activists provoking racial unrest by misidentifying racial discrimination. This triggers feelings of alienation and discomfort amongst members of groups that might have otherwise coexisted more harmoniously. In my opinion, focusing on “white privilege” is counterproductive, and it actually increases the privilege of whites. I will expand on this issue in my next blog post.

To access an interesting post on obesity and race in the context of a HBCU click here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Violence begets violence - but it does not solve crime

I was tasked last week with showing short excerpts of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (which just the night before had taken the Oscars for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role) to our class. The movie lends itself to discussion vis-a vis working class whites for various reasons. But, our topic for the seminar was “Working Class Whites and the Criminal Justice System,” and as someone who studies criminology, some aspects (aside from the relentless violence) of the film did not sit well with me.

The film tells the story of Mildred Hayes, who is grieving the unsolved rape and murder of her teenage daughter. The film is set in a (fictional) poor/working class, mostly white, rural town in Missouri. Frustrated with the circumstances of her daughter’s death Mildred erects three billboards that read: “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests?”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Mildred targets Willoughby because, as the chief of police, “the buck stops” with him.

Here and here are some responses from other reviewers that resonated with me:
"Three Billboards” is about a mother determined to humiliate and harass a small-town police force into solving the months-old rape and murder of her teenage daughter... This is a revenge movie that’s also a dead-child tragedy that’s also a local-law-enforcement comedy... Mildred seems desperate to believe in the power of the billboards as a shaming vehicle for justice
Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in... The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law...
I am rarely one to stand up and defend the police, but nothing in the film convinced me Willoughby and the Ebbing Police Department needed to be humiliated, or harassed, or taken on. Whether the Police Department was “torturing black folk” as Mildred claims is another (important) matter. However, it does not seem that the department failed to solve her “actual crime” due to lack of trying. Chief Willoughby claims,
I’d do anything to catch the guy who did it, Mrs. Hayes, but when the DNA don’t match no one who’s ever been arrested, and when the DNA don’t match any other crime nationwide, and there wasn’t a single eyewitness from the time she left your house to the time we found her, well... right now there ain’t too much more we could do.
To me, Mildred’s actions were irresponsible and selfish. Not to discount her grief or the death of her daughter, but murders go unsolved all the time. This is not always because police are lazy or corrupt, but simply because the evidence is not there and the trail goes cold. In fact, I would think pressure such as that exerted by Mildred might lead to more false arrests than accurate ones, as police try to appease the community and close the case. Unsolved murders in small (white?) (working class?) towns get enough attention as is. Perhaps Mildred feels her white privilege being threatened because an institution (the police department) that is supposed to be there for her has failed her, and other groups are getting more undeserved attention.

Although this work is fictional, director Martin McDonagh may well have been inspired by true events. In 2016, the New York Times ran this article about the unsolved murder of a 12 year old boy in St. Lawrence County, New York;
a rural and job-challenged region where 94 percent of the population is white.
On the outskirts of town there was a billboard with a picture of the boy one the left and the words “Unsolved Murder” on the right. The case caught the public’s eye because it involved
a gruesome murder of a child, hints of a love triangle and faded affairs and a small town on the edge over the idea of a coldblooded killer living in its midst or still on the run. Amid all that is an unsettling undercurrent of racial tension, at a time of simmering national debate over racial bias in law enforcement.
It took prosecutors 30 months to charge a black man who previously dated the boy’s mother. From the start the case drew criticism because police attested to a lack of hard evidence and the first indictment had to be thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.

The county prosecutor who tried the case allegedly ran on a promise that she would focus the energies of her office on the boy’s murder. She criticized the incumbent for not doing more to solve the murder; the incumbent had refused to make an arrest because there was too little evidence. The billboards and the community pressure may not have led to the arrest of the actual guilty party, but the humiliation and harassment led the district attorney to politicize the crime, use it as a successful campaign platform, and indict a man despite there being little evidence against him.

In my opinion, allowing grief to be used as a weapon and a means of taking on the law, especially when in relation to an isolated incident, hurts the criminal justice system and undermines criminal justice policy.

Why are people leaving California?

Unable to maintain a comfortable standard of living while paying housing costs, working-class Californians have been leaving the golden state in recent years in hopes of finding new lives elsewhere. No other region in the state has experienced as dramatic a rise in the cost of housing as the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco a minimum-wage worker making $15 per hour working 40 hours a week can expect to make about $29,000 per year before taxes. Meanwhile the average rent for a one bedroom flat in the bay area has risen to about $2000 per month. Thus, in order for a single income working-class family to live in the Bay Area they would have to invest their entire annual income into paying housing costs. It is impossible for working-class families to survive under these economic conditions, so many have decided to live further away and commute to their bay area jobs. Working class families may live in central valley communities such as Stockton, Modesto, and Tracy and commute approximately 2 hours to their place of employment in the Bay Area.
Sheila James starts her Monday, and the work week, at 2:15 a.m.; this might be normal for a baker or a morning radio host, but Ms. James is a standard American office worker. She is 62 and makes $81,000 a year as a public health adviser for the United States Department of Health and Human Services in San Francisco. Ms. James lives about 80 miles away in Stockton, which has cheaper homes than the Bay Area but requires her to commute on two trains and a bus leaving at 4 a.m. to get to work.
The time spent commuting to work exhausts employees, as they must invest a total of nearly 4 hours into a work-related activity without receiving any compensation for it. The time invested into the work commute also takes away from one’s time with family and friends. Rather than spending those 4 hours bonding with family members and expanding one’s social circle, commuters are spending it inside a vehicle. Excessive commute times also have the potential to take a heavy toll on an individual’s physical and mental health. Since workers must wake early to get to work by 8 or 9 am, that means they often receive less sleep than their bodies require. Sleep deprivation can cause depression, memory loss, slower reaction times, and a weakened immune system.

Some may ask why don’t working-class families find employment elsewhere. For example, rather than commute to San Francisco every day for work, the commuter can work at a local establishment in Stockton. There are two flaws in this argument. The first flaw lies in the assumption that jobs can be readily found outside of major metropolitan areas. Areas such as Stockton may have more affordable housing than the San Francisco Bay Area region, but employment opportunities are far fewer in these places than major cities. The second flaw lies in the assumption that housing costs in these smaller cities will remain constant as more people move inside. Stockton’s rental prices may be low now, but if more working-class families move into the city then prices will rise. Thus, the process of pricing out working-class families from the area will repeat.
In the last five years, home prices in the Central Valley have increased 92%, reports Mercury News. The median listing price in Stockton a landlocked city of about 300,000 residents is $275,000 right now while it was only $180,000 in November 2013. The surge is mostly thanks to an influx of homeowners priced out of neighboring Silicon Valley.
Without any viable options available, it is unsurprising that working-class families are leaving California in hopes of achieving a better standard of living. Las Vegas is one of the most popular destinations for those who leave California. It's relatively close to California, it's a major job center, the cost of living is much cheaper, and there are plenty of affordable new single-family homes available for purchase.

What will be the effect on California’s economy if working-class families continue to leave the state? How will the outflow of working-class families affect middle-class and upper-class families?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elite hypocrisy about working class white and rural women? The case of the West Virginia teachers strike

I've been keeping an eye on elite bashing of working class and rural whites for years now, and I published my first article about it as long ago as 2011.  But the election of 2016 brought the badmouthing to a fever pitch, and I've occasionally blogged about the phenomenon, such as here and here.

One "series" I see on Twitter begins:  "And in today's episode of:  I Bet I Know Who You Voted For..." That is the common  preface to re-Tweets of headlines that could previously have appeared in the "Darwin Awards" or perhaps the petty crime pages of a local paper.  I'm pasting one below.  It re-Tweets a Fox News Tweet that reads "Substitute allegedly brought boxed wine to school, vomited in class."

Another re-Tweets this Fox News Tweet:  "Woman charged with choking teen for blocking view at Disney fireworks show."

On a related note, here's an item from Instagram just a few days ago, from the account called guerrillafeminism that reads "happy international women's day except the 53% of white women who voted for trump."

Pat Bagley, the cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune (whose work I greatly admire, by the way--both cartoonist and paper), has referred to Trump's "idiot followers."  I could provide many more illustrations of this phenomenon.

With that background, you can imagine my surprise--but also delight--when I saw this Tweet from Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, which bills itself as an
independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.
Despite the "nonpartisan" billing, I see Center for American Progress as clearly left leaning (a good thing in my book!).  Tanden's Tweet reads:
The teachers of West Virginia are heroes.  They deserve good pay and a real raise.  I stand with them.

Now, I don't recall any past Tweets by Tanden blasting Trump supporters, though I do recall some highly critical of Trump.  That's fine by me.  It's a line I've drawn myself--at least in the last year or so (I was a bit less discriminating--a bit more knee jerk--as I reeled in the wake of election of 2016)  I readily take aim at Trump but try to be more thoughtful and circumspect re: Trump supporters.  I'm looking to understand them, trying to listen empathically. (I've got a whole law review article forthcoming about female Trump supporters, delivered as the key note address at the Toledo Law Review symposium in October, 2017:  The Women Feminism Forgot:  Rural and Working Class White Women in the Era of Trump.  I hope to have the text posted soon on my page).

But the bottom line is that some things I saw on Twitter about the West Virginia teachers--many sympathetic comments of the sort Tanden shared--had me wondering if the lefties doing this Tweeting realized that many of the folks they were lauding and advocating for had no doubt voted for Trump.  That is, these newfound labor heroes with their wild-cat strike were one and the same with (many) reviled Trump voters.  Some 68% of West Virginians voted for Trump!  Could I possibly be seeing praise for these women--praise from the left?   These are the same women that many lefties on Twitter have said "get what they deserve" if they lose their healthcare (thanks to Trump's effort to dismantle Obamacare) or face further economic decline (thanks, for example, to the long-term consequences of Trump's tax reform law).

(Btw, I was at an Appalachian Justice symposium at West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown from Thursday Feb. 22 'til Saturday Feb. 24th, and I got to see the picketing--and hear the honking in support--first-hand, which was pretty cool.  One of my favorite signs, this published in the Washington Post, is below )

Michelle Goldberg, a relatively new columnist at the New York Times who is writing a lot about gender issues, offered up this column under the headline, "The Teachers Revolt in West Virginia."  She called the strike "thrilling," noting that strikes by teachers are unlawful in West Virginia, which became a right-to-work state a few years ago, and where unions do not have collective bargaining rights. Yet, Goldberg writes,
teachers and some other school employees in all of the state’s 55 counties are refusing to return to work until lawmakers give them a 5 percent raise, and commit to addressing their rapidly rising health insurance premiums.
Goldberg further explains that the "obvious impetus" for action is West Virginia's awful pay of teachers, which ranks 48th in the nation (read more analysis here).  She also discusses the critical role that health care/health insurance plays in the labor dispute:
 In the past, solid health care benefits helped make up for low wages, but because West Virginia hasn’t been putting enough money into the state agency that insures public employees, premiums and co-payments have been increasing significantly.  
Ah, there's that health care problem again, by which I mean you should read this and this, among other sources cited and discussed in that forthcoming Toledo Law Review article. 

Having pored over many, many mainstream media reports of white working class Trump supporters in places like Appalachia (you guessed it, all discussed in that Toledo Law Review article!), I was struck that the women Goldberg identified and interviewed did not appear to be Trump supporters.  Quite to the contrary, these women are held out as having responded to Trump's election by becoming part of what is popularly known as "the resistance." I was delighted to learn about and hear from these women, but was Goldberg unable to find any Trump supporters among the striking teachers?  I would very much have liked to have heard their attitudes about the strike, also in relation to their support for Trump.  Did they reconcile the two?

Here are excerpts/quotes about the two women Goldberg did feature, Jenny Craig, a special education teacher from Triadelphia (population 811, northern panhandle) and Amanda Howard Garvin, an elementary art teacher in Morgantown (third largest city in the state, home of WVU):
Craig described the anti-Trump Women’s March, as well as the explosion of local political organizing that followed it, as a “catalyst” for at least some striking teachers.
Goldberg quotes Craig:
You have women now taking leadership roles in unionizing, in standing up, in leading initiatives for fairness and equality and justice for everyone.
Goldberg also quotes Garvin:
As a profession, we’re largely made up of women. ... There are a bunch of men sitting in an office right now telling us that we don’t deserve anything better. 
Oh how I LOVE that quote.  In the wake of Trump’s election, Garvin added, women are standing up to say: 
No. We’re equal here.
I sure hope Garvin is right that the sentiment and movement are as widespread as she suggests--and as Goldberg implies.  If this is accurate, liberal elites--including feminists--will have to give Craig, Garvin and so many more like them their due.  (Indeed, teacher strikes may be in the works in the equally "red" states of Oklahoma and Kentucky, too).  That will challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes about folks from this region (read more here and here), which will in turn serve all of us quite well.  

By the way, the strike succeeded, with the teachers getting what they held out for.  You can find more exciting coverage of the West Virginia teachers strike here, here and here.  And don't miss this by WVU Law Professor and education law expert, Joshua Weishart.  

The question that all of this leaves me with is this:  What can the WV teachers strike teach us about how to build and sustain cross-class coalitions, including among whites?  How can these intra-racial coalitions interface with cross-race coalitions for even stronger pacts among progressives? And what role will gender play in all of this coalition building?  

Other hopeful news of change in relation to women and the national political landscape is here, here and here.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A shortage of workers across America, and immigration as part of the solution

I kicked off the "Working Class Whites and the Law" blog back in January with this post about the shortage of workers willing to do crappy work.  This shortage is obviously integrally linked to immigration and should inform our nation's immigration policy.  If native-born workers (of whatever color) are not available to do the work that needs to be done to keep our economy(ies) booming, then immigrant labor is a necessity if economies are to grow, or even tread water.  And growth seems to be the buzzword of the era, whether or not the growth is sustainable and whether or not such growth is good for the planet.

Never mind those concerns.   Two recent stories from two very different places--California and Missouri--illustrate the need for laborers.   

First, the California story:  well, could be any number of stories, but I'll settle on Darrell Steinberg's interview with NPR on Thursday morning, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' speech to a group of law enforcement officers in Sacramento on Wednesday. Steinberg defended Sacramento's stance as a "sanctuary city" by noting that the municipality is standing up for immigrants who, among other things, contribute to the economy:
It's the people living in our communities that have lived here, by the way, for decades. These are people going to school, people going to college, people who are contributing to our tax base. And we have an obligation to stand up for those people. And that's exactly what we're going to do.
Here's another California story that links immigration with the economy, this one out of the town of Jacumba Hot Springs, population  561

The Missouri story is datelined Branson, Missouri, population 10,520, the self-proclaimed "live entertainment capital of the world." The headline for the Washington Post story is "Why a white town paid for a class called "Hispanics 101'," and it is fundamentally about a labor shortage in southwest Missouri, a region I've frequently written about, e.g., here, herehere, here and here.  (It's a place of great interest to me because I grew up a little more than an hour away, in northwest Arkansas).   This Branson story, though by a different WaPo journalist, is somewhat similar in theme to this January report on a turkey processing plant in South Dakota recruiting Puerto Ricans to meet their labor needs.  The angle on Danielle Paquette's story out of Branson is that employers there are having to develop cultural sensitivity in order to recruit and retain Latinx workers, with a recent focus on those from Puerto Rico.  Here's an excerpt that explains that the economy depends on the success of the undertaking: 
As tourism season kicks off this month, the remote getaway known for dinner theaters, country music concerts and a museum of dinosaur replicas has 2,050 vacancies — and a lack of locals applying. 
So, like other areas with tight labor markets, Branson finds itself getting creative to fill jobs — in this case by recruiting people from a part of the United States with much higher unemployment.
But the plan to bring 1,000 workers from the island to overwhelmingly white, conservative Branson over the next three years has sparked unease, with critics saying that the newcomers will steal work from residents or drag down wages or bump up crime.
Paquette goes on to describe how desperate managers from Branson-area hotels, hospitals, hardware stores and banks have paid $50 each for the "Hispanic 101" workshop led by Miguel Joey Aviles.  Hilariously, Aviles is teaching his students--among other things--how to dance the merengue. 
Aviles advises bosses to check in often, ask about their mothers and request that grocery stores in the area sell plantains and Goya coconut water. 
“It’s not enough to invite them to the party,” Aviles said, twisting his body to the beat. “Bring them to the dance floor.”
Paquette goes on to focus on Branson's whiteness, with these details: 
[O]fficials acknowledge that some in the area, which is 92.4 percent white, are clinging to the past. Confederate flags adorn shop windows. A billboard outside town advertises “White Pride Radio.”

“We get nasty comments all the time,” said Heather Hardinger, programs director at the Taney County Partnership, which is working with the chamber on what it calls the “talent attraction” plan. 
States and companies from across the United States are competing for Puerto Rican workers, which had a jobless rate of nearly 11% in 2017, the highest in the nation. 

All of this highlights for me the gulf in understanding--broadly speaking--between California and Missouri, when it comes to the value--even necessity--of immigrant labor.  I'm also wondering how to bridge that gulf.  And I'm wondering--as I asked in that post back in early January--what happened to the good ol' working class whites who used to do jobs in places like Branson?  Have they succumbed to the meth (or other drug) epidemic (or here)?  gone soft?  moved to the city?  I'd like to know. 

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.