How Americans Think About Fairness and the Economy

There is massive new Pew Research Center poll (185 glorious pdf pages) that dissects the attitudes of Americans on all sorts of things. There is much to mull over, starting with the study’s division of the American populace into eight ideological groups: Solid Liberals (all left all the time; like me, more or less), Steadfast Conservatives (fiscally and socially conservative), Business Conservatives (corporatist, but not so down on gays and immigrants), Young Outsiders (socially liberal Republicans), Hard-Pressed Skeptics (left-leaning, working class, disillusioned), Next-Generation Liberals (like the Solid Liberals, but unconvinced of the need for social programs or anti-discrimination legislation), Faith and Family Left (like the Solid Liberals, but homophobic), and (boringly) Bystanders, who are what they sound like: disengaged and uninformed.

These groups break down mostly as you’d expect (although the right is more polarized than the left). The study is full of charts that show the spread of each group’s opinions across some typical left-right divide, and they all pretty much look like this one:

Here Is Your Open Thread

In the Texas Tribune, a brief look at some foster kids who made it to college.

Slut-Shaming Is About Class, Not Sex

Scientists love to give us data to tell us that what we already suspect is true: calories are not created equal; climate change is already cooking our planet and it’s our fault; and so on. Well, in case you’ve ever wondered whether slut-shaming, or bullying people, usually women, for their sexuality, is more about richer folks consolidating their in-group power at the expense of poorer, out-group folks, congratulations! The scientists say that you’re right. According to Al-Jazeera America, slut-shaming is more about class than sex:

Sociologists from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Merced occupied a dorm room in a large Midwestern university, regularly interacting with and interviewing 53 women about their attitudes on school, friends, partying and sexuality from the time they moved in as freshman and following up for the next five years.

The researchers discovered that definitions of “slutty” behavior and the act of slut-shaming was largely determined along class lines rather than based on actual sexual behavior. What’s more, they found the more affluent women were able to engage in more sexual experimentation without being slut-shamed, while the less-affluent women were ridiculed as sluts for being “trashy” or “not classy,” even though they engaged in less sexual behavior.

The Best Books About Class

Generations and generations of high school students read The Great Gatsby not because it is a love story for the ages — it isn’t — but because it is a well-written but lurid melodrama about the limitations of the American Dream. A poor guy with limited prospects shakes himself off, changes his name, makes his fortune, and then (spoiler alert) gets his comeuppance after his high-class lady love accidentally kills her husband’s working-class mistress. Oops.

The moral is that we should eat the rich because otherwise they win every time.

For Jewniverse, I wrote about Joanna Hershon’s new book A Dual Inheritance, which is less vivid, plot-wise, than Gatsby, but also a fascinating look at money, ambition, and friendship in the 20th century. Billfold contributor Rebecca called it “a more interesting The Interestings,” in reference to Meg Wolitzer’s 2013 novel about similar tensions. Of course YMMV; both novels are very much worth reading.

Writers have been addressing the topic of class since before Karl Marx was a glimmer in his mother’s eye. Some of the classics of world literature trace a young man or woman’s path from poor to rich: Great Expectations, Vanity Fair. Others concern themselves with what happens when someone who has always been comfortable finds the ground shaking beneath her feet, like in Daniel Deronda and oh everything by Edith Wharton. I’ve started to put together a list of the best books on the topic, so help me out! What are your favorites?

Concerning Public Assistance, Shame, and Healthy Eating

From a website I was surprised to find myself perusing, since it's called "Christ and Pop Culture" (neither of which interests me greatly), here is an interesting first-person account of trying to use WIC vouchers at Whole Foods (spoiler: you can't).

14 Years Old and Trying to Survive in Three of Cincinnati’s Roughest Neighborhoods

Reporter Krista Ramsey and photographer Cara Owsley have a really terrific feature in the Cincinnati Enquirer looking at 14 different 14-year-olds living in three of Cincinnati's roughest neighborhoods. Nearly all of them have witnessed or experienced violence. Some have stolen to feed their families. And some, at 14, are holding on to the hope that the future will be a better place.

Modern-Day Jean Valjean Set Free

Cornealious "Mike" Anderson, a Missouri man sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1999 for his part in a robbery, instead spent 14 years as a free man with a new lease on life. He didn't run or hide; after his conviction, he waited for police to show up and haul him off to prison -- only, because of a clerical error, they never did. At least, not until July of this year, when Anderson came home from his job to find cops outside his house.

Aging Out of the Foster Care System and Figuring Out How to Build a Life

Kyo, not his real name, is a young black man in his mid 20s currently living in transitional housing for the homeless in Northern New Jersey. I have known him since he was 18. I had met Kyo during my former job as a reporter with The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper.

Defining ‘Rich’

At the Upshot, Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A., discusses a survey she did in which she asked respondents how much income their household needed to earn to be considered “rich.” It turned out that the “I’d be rich” number increased with the rise in income:

This is, perhaps, unsurprising. Based off our discussion of if money buys happiness, we know that it makes more of a difference to you if you’re going from a low-income household and into the upper classes.

As for me, I live a pretty comfortable life on a sub-six-figure income. I imagine having a household with $293,000 would feel pretty rich to me.

Poor People Are Pretty Much Screwed

This is not news, but in case you needed more ammunition to shoot down the rags-to-riches dreams of the naïve up-and-comers you meet between the dive bar and the OTB, there’s a 30-year, longitudinal study of 800 Baltimore children that proves, as Mother Jones happily summarizes, that “family determines almost everything, and that a child’s fate is essentially fixed by how well off her parents were when she was born.”

And (surprise!) the data reveal additional barriers to upward mobility for black children:

Alexander found that among men who drop out of high school, the employment differences between white and black men was truly staggering. At age 22, 89 percent of the white subjects who’d dropped of high school were working, compared with 40 percent of the black dropouts.

These differences came despite the fact that it was the better-off white men who reported the highest rates of drug abuse and binge drinking. White men from disadvantaged families came in second in that department. White men also had high rates of encounters with the criminal justice system. At age 28, 41 percent of the white men born into low-income families had criminal convictions, compared with 49 percent of the black men from similar backgrounds, an indication that it is indeed race, not a criminal record, that’s keeping a lot of black men out of the workforce.

Now, I realize that for those among us who, through poor planning, were born poor and/or black, there’s not much to do but keep on struggling and hope to beat the odds. But I do sometimes wonder how long the American Dream will continue to edge out Armed Insurrection Followed By Workers’ Paradise as our favorite unrealistic formula for working class salvation.

 

Photo by the author

Canadian Middle Class Feels Bad for American Middle Class

As a followup to Meaghan’s post about the American man who traveled to Canada and was struck by the existence of a “vast and comfortable middle class,” the Upshot talked to some middle-class Canadians who said they had plenty to worry about but thought they were better off than Americans:

“When you have a family to raise and you are middle class, you are on a treadmill,” said Deborrah Mustachi, a 52-year-old educational assistant for the Catholic school board in Markham, a Toronto suburb. “It’s very difficult to save when you have to live for today.”

Yet, Ms. Mustachi added, “I think people in the U.S. seem to struggle more.”

Canadians have little doubt that they face less financial stress about medical costs than Americans. Many also credit their labor unions for the size of their paychecks; union membership rates are higher in Canada. Canadians also know that the American housing bubble and bust were more severe than their version.

“We got to keep our houses,” said Gregory Thomas, 39, an actor and house painter who lives with his wife and two young children in Toronto. “As an outsider, it seems like the aspirational section of the middle class — those who are constantly trying to get a little bit higher — they really got decimated in the States.”

And I can’t get over this kicker:

Or as Mr. Thomas said, Americans “may get more on their plate when they go to Denny’s, but they don’t have more when they go home.”

Burn.

Photo: Alex Indigo

How We Think About Class

While everyone agreed in principle that it is generally not desirable to judge people based on their appearance, we diverged on whether judging people based on apparent wealth is as bad as judging them based on, say, race.