Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Minorities "catching up"--in the new low-wage economy

Paranoia, misinformation and bigotry are a toxic mix, as we have seen in this past election. In an interview in the Washington Post, the co-founder of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, Lakshman Achuthan, claimed that “The shock of the election spoke to a kind of disconnect. There is a huge cohort—you can call it whites, people in rural areas—who weren’t feeling the 5 percent unemployment rate. They weren’t feeling the stock market at new highs. They weren’t feeling a recovery that’s seven, eight years old.” Achuthan asserted that it was these voters who propelled Donald Trump to victory, presumably in states in the Midwest where Trump won by a narrow margin. In a recent research paper, the ECRI claimed that it was minorities who “took” jobs from these white “rural” people, or at least “took” the jobs that were not available to whites, since they were not located where they were “at,” and wouldn’t move or make the long treks to get to them.

There are those, the UK’s The Economist among them, that claim that the ECRI has some secret formula for accurately predicting economic difficulties while other “experts” cannot. For example, the ECRI accurately predicted that the country was in recession in 2001—except that it was already on a downturn in 2000. In 2009 it predicted that the country was in recession—except that everyone knew that in 2007. It “predicted” a recession in 2011—no wait, 2012. Neither “prediction” came true. This failure to accurately forecast economic “cycles”—I mean, who “knew” that irresponsible deregulation of the financial and banking sectors would lead to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression—has not stopped some journalist types and far-right conspiracy theorists to pounce on their latest “study” and pronounce it as evidence of why Trump was elected by poor, put-upon white people who need “everything.” 

The reality, unfortunately, is that this white privilege society tends to throw the job crumbs to minorities, and these days those “crumbs” tend to outnumber the plums.  I have already described a recent experience where in the quest for a job I was over-qualified for, I had to “compete” with dozens of immigrants from Africa, and naturally I wasn’t the kind of “qualified” the company was looking for.  While manufacturing jobs and small town mom & pop businesses have been disappearing thanks to the Walmarts and the Amazons, service sector and low-income production jobs have taken their place, and the latter usually located in industrial parks that are generally not located near residential areas that are located precisely because they are far from the “undesirables.” 

The Post offered a refutation of the claim that minorities are “taking” jobs from white people. “‘The implication is there are hundreds of thousands of white people who lost their jobs to blacks, Asians and Hispanics. Yet if you look at the unemployment rate differentials by race, you don’t see a huge increase in the white unemployment rate,’ said Jonathan Rothwell, a Gallup economist. The recession and its aftermath were not dramatically worse for white workers, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for whites — 4.6 percent in 2015 — is lower than for all racial groups except Asians. In comparison, 9.6 percent of African Americans, 6.6 percent of Hispanics and 3.8 percent of Asians are unemployed.”

4.6 percent unemployment is actually considered to be a “normal” rate, with the rate reflecting typical variables such as layoffs, voluntary “quits,” firings, relocations etc. in which people are typically in that limbo between where they are leaving and where they are going. The white employment rate at this time is meaningless, with the reduction in unemployment by minorities reflecting creation of jobs that whites generally do not seek or need. It should be noted that Asian employment patterns have a tendency to be misunderstood by the media; while East and South Asians are typically stereotyped in higher-income tech-related jobs, the majority of Asians (particularly from Southeast Asia) are more often to be found in low-income production jobs. In any case, whites still have far higher per-capita income than blacks, Hispanics and most Asian groups, because of the disparity in “plum” job placement; where ego is at premium, whites still prefer to hire those who look like themselves.

Rothwell went on to say that “I don’t see any evidence that whites were disproportionately harmed over the last nine years. The main concern I have with the [Economic Cycle Research Institute] chart is it’s potentially grossly misleading in terms of how it could be interpreted.” He also pointed out that whites as a percentage of the population and its aging trends is resulting in a higher percentage of minorities of working age. This ongoing trend can be seen in the nearly equal number of white and minority students in public schools. Achuthan admitted that “It’s not like they (minorities) all showed up at a job fair and someone said, ‘No, we’re taking the person of color. The easiest explanation is that Asians, black and Hispanics tend to be located in the population centers, and that’s where a lot of the job growth has been,” while confessing that “Whites living in rural areas may be reluctant to move to the cities for jobs.” 

I have to confess that I have very little sympathy for the “entitled” and “privileged.” I know what I see. I see all these white pretty people out in their skintight jogging outfits in the middle of the day and ask myself “Do these people actually work?” Well of course they do; they have nice cushy desk jobs, but need to get out and burn-off the office fat. I see these big, tough-looking white dudes who make out with the evil eye at “inferior” people, and I know they are the ones with what high-paying industrial jobs are left. The average hourly income in King County is reportedly $30-an-hour, and I ask myself “Who the hell are these people making $30-an-hour?” I never worked with anyone who wasn’t a production manager who made more than $15. I never made more than $14-an-hour, and that was for less than a full week. I had to work 36 hours of overtime in one week before I cashed in my one and only week of what is “average.” I don’t know what kind of world privileged whiners live in, but I do know that I do not live in a world of illusion.

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