Thursday, February 2, 2012

Canaries in the coal mine

The delayed reaction layoffs to the economic crises is starting to hammer many in government employment.  Since blacks are disproportionally employed within this sector, they are getting hammered particularly hard.

So if you are not African American, why would you worry?  Because the black middle class (not the gang bangers) are the canary in the coal mine.  Of the various large groupings of people that make up the American middle class they have the shallowists roots, and the shortest period of participation. 

As Public Sector Sheds Jobs, Blacks Are Hit Hardest
Timothy Williams, New York Times, 29 November 2011
The central role played by government employment in black communities is hard to overstate. African-Americans in the public sector earn 25 percent more than other black workers, and the jobs have long been regarded as respectable, stable work for college graduates, allowing many to buy homes, send children to private colleges and achieve other markers of middle-class life that were otherwise closed to them.
But during the past year, while the private sector has added 1.6 million jobs, state and local governments have shed at least 142,000 positions, according to the Labor Department. Those losses are in addition to 200,000 public-sector jobs lost in 2010 and more than 500,000 since the start of the recession.

I think the last sentence of the first paragraph is a bit of a mistatement of why black's tended to go into government employment.  I think much of the attraction is the same for the Indian engineers, and doctors I know who make their money by running stores, but for prestige reasons keep thier professional positions active.   In this case, the blacks are probably attracted to the perceived stability, and medical benefits these positions offer.  That seems to be the attraction to the white southerners from a low income background who work in these positions.

Within the story is imbedded the second story.  Blacks have had a very hard time building on their foothold into the middle class.  There is a certain truth that your typical middle-class american is to some degree building on the success of their parents.  There is a built up social capital that they are banking on.  African Americans have had a hard time as a group building up on that capital.
A study by the Brookings Institution in 2007 found that fewer than one-third of blacks born to middle-class parents went on to earn incomes greater than their parents, compared with more than two-thirds of whites from the same income bracket. The foreclosure crisis also wiped out a large part of a generation of black homeowners.

"There hasn't been one family member who hasn't been touched by a layoff," Ms. Kindle said. "We are losing the bulk of our middle class. I was much better off than my parents, and I'm feeling my children will not be as well off as I was. There's not as much government work and not as many manufacturing jobs. It's just going down so wrong for us. When I think about it I get frightened, so I try not to think about it."

The blacks I think have had the particularly bad luck to get their economic freedom at a time when the best part of the post-World War 2 American expansion was largely past.  They had the government expansion in the 1970s, and the economic expansion of the 1990s, but a lot of that last expansion was bought on credit that is coming due.  African Americans were particulalry hard hit by the bust in sub-prime home lending.

There is also the arguement by Thomas Sowell that blacks have emulated the worst portions of the dominant white culture (think white trash) that they were most familiar with.  Their lack of success has mirrored the lack of success within this portion of Anglo-Saxon culture.

None of which really explains why blacks children are half as likely to build on the success of their parents.

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