Trying to keep to my commitment, here is a second edition of weekend reading. First off, a link to NYT’s slideshow of same-sex weddings that happened on Sunday, the first day marriages were legalized in that state.
A piece on Norway after the 22nd, that has a really powerful message and a tiny glimpse of Norway.
By now, you have probably heard about the mother who crossed a street illegally and how her son was killed in a hit-and-run. And about how she was charged with vehicular homicide. If you haven’t, that’s an incredibly shortened version of the background for a critique of urban planning.
As our economy continues to teeter (and maybe collapse, thanks to the debt debate), there’s a good argument for what our real unemployment looks like, including a few important clarifications:
Through the neat accounting trick of reclassifying the long-term unemployed (6 months or more) as no longer part of the workforce is based on the quaint notion that anyone unemployed for half a year has stopped trying to find a job. The official rate, then, masks a shadow population of long-term unemployed that, if counted, would likely double the official rate.
The never-reported U6 unemployment rate, which accounts for long-term and “discouraged” unemployed, is currently hovering between 16% and 17%compared to the official (U3) rate of about 9.5%. An honest economist will tell you that even the government’s U6 rate is understated, as there are a greater number of long-term unemployed (including some who have never been employed) floating around outside of what we define as the labor force. If we could really count everyone – unemployed, part timers who can’t find full time, discouraged workers who have stopped trying, etc. – we’re probably looking at something like 1 in 5 adults who could be working but are not.
Consider this unremarkable, back page news item about automaker BMW’s distribution center in California. It is being closed and outsourced. Were it outsourced to a foreign country, its employees would probably end up in the unemployment statistics eventually (for a short time, if nothing else). It isn’t heading to Mexico, though. The distribution center is being outsourced to a contractor that will operate the warehouse with the usual perks of subcontracting – namely a high turnover, $9/hr workforce – instead of the 20+ year veteran BMW employees.
The unemployment numbers over which we all obsess do nothing to capture what happened here, and what happened here is more damaging to the macroeconomy than plain old unemployment. There’s no net job loss. It’s merely a transition from 75 good jobs to 75 shit ones, from 75 people who are productive in the economy to 75 who live paycheck-to-paycheck as the working poor.
And on top of the unemployment crisis – we’re in a wage crisis too. Despite companies having huge profit margins, labor wages are at a 50-year low relative to company sales and national GDP.
Juan Cole on why the ideology of the terrorist in Norway isn’t surprising at all.
Here is a review of Somewhere in America and a thorough look at poverty in contemporary America:
Since at least the 80s, Reaganite economic policy has created a growing underclass of Americans, who have largely seemed invisible to American society. For a brief moment in 2009, Mahardige remembers, journalists were interested in the tent cities springing up outside of cities in California and Florida. But they wanted to hear about people who had just lost their jobs. In fact, most of the residents had been struggling for years, even during the supposedly good times of the 90s. The Crash simply broke the camel’s back.
In some ways its an underclass whose lives seem familiar to us: the men and women who ride railroads, sleep under bridges, squat in abandoned factories, hover outside of overcrowded breadlines, and drift from town to town drawn by rumors of work seem all reminiscent of Woody Guthrie songs and John Steinbeck novels. But it also deeply alien to see it today, which is why many of the most jaring photographs juxtapose images of 21st century American consumption (a Kenny Rogers ad, a faded Office Depot sign, a Wal-Mart, etc…) next to images of 21st century poverty, to familiarize us with a phenomenon we were told doesn’t exist anymore. Suburbanization and the creation of highways has, to a large degree, pushed this poverty out of sight. The poverty rate in the suburbs, where poverty tends to be much less visible, has been skyrocketing.
True poverty, Maharidge points out, takes some time to kick in. At first, when people lost their jobs in Youngstown, they survived. Some found new jobs, others accepted lower pay. Many drifted on unemployment or disability. But eventually these supports dry up, and the longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to get new employment. You are evicted or foreclosed, your family or friend gets sick of you crashing with them, and you move on. Maybe you hear about an opportunity a couple of towns over, but can’t afford a hotel room or a deposit on a rental. So you begin sleeping in your car. Gas and maintenance becomes too much, so you hitch or walk. Many sell blood or begin scrounging food from wastebins, at first in moments of despair, later as an everyday activity. The embarrassment and stress gets to people, who begin abusing drugs or alcohol. Many are victims of theft, murder, or rape, and rarely do the police investigate.
As the Great Recession continues (and it is continuing for most people…) the middle class is falling into the lower class, the lower class falling into the poor, and the poor falling off the social map into the informal economy of scrounging, subsistence farming, petty thievery, homelessness, prostitution, and the like. There are almost certainly more Americans who live like this then, say, Americans who watch the Daily Show. Mahardige and Williamson introduce us to “Edge men,” people who have completely given up on the prospect of employment, and squat or set up tents outside of cities, to live permanently outside of society. With years of high unemployment, and millions of so called ‘99ers approaching the end of their benefits, we better get used to seeing these people.
Is Obama the Democrats’ Nixon?
The House GOP use a clip from The Town to get votes. Ben Affleck is as confused as I am.
The funniest parody letter from The Rainbow Shiek to Americans. Seriously. Read it. It has this in it:
I GOT 99 PROBLEMS AND GETTING MY NAME INSCRIBED IN MY OWN PRIVATE ISLAND AIN’T ONE.
Ever since Airminded used the Google Books ngram viewer, I have become intrigued. Expect more use in the future, but in the meantime, from Airminded: what did people call the 1914-1919 war in Europe?
And last but not least, a piece in the New Yorker about Rwanda’s cycling team.