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4 Out of 5 Americans Struggling With Joblessness or Poverty

The American economy is increasingly delivering security and prosperity to only a tiny fraction of the population.
 
 
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The AP is out with a big analysis today about how the American economy is increasingly delivering security and prosperity to only a  tiny fraction of the population:

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream…

Hardship is particularly on the rise among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy “poor.”

And here’s their working definition:

The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Probably the most striking finding here is just how many poor whites are out there:

Sometimes termed “the invisible poor” by demographers, lower-income whites are generally dispersed in suburbs as well as small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white. Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are also numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America’s heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

It’s probably fair to say also that poor whites are overwhelmingly Republican, and in large part due to an overhang of racial resentment. After all, the New Deal coalition between poor Southern whites and rich urban liberals  was built on racist oppression.

This is why I despair of analysis  like Matt Yglesias’ or Sean Trende’s making the case the Republicans can keep winning with white voters alone (though NB that Trende doesn’t argue that this means the GOP doesn’t have to change). Because that does not bode well for our future.

I lived in South Africa for a time, where voting breaks down almost entirely by race. To a first approximation, blacks vote for the African National Congress, whites and  Coloureds (the non-offensive term adopted by mixed-race people) vote for the Democratic Alliance. The upshot is that because blacks make up about 77 percent of the population the ANC has won every election with over 60% of the vote. (An outcome, I should add, that is the predicable outcome of the Apartheid state’s  vicious racist terrorism.)

But the lack of political competition has been disastrous.  Especially during the tenure of Thabo Mbeki, the whole South African government was shot through with corruption and rank incompetence, culminating in the  2008 power crisis. Single party states, outside of a few possible exceptions like Singapore, are a recipe for failure.

Gary Younge’s point is well-taken that poor whites’ party preferences probably just reflects the values that people have, and the fact that Democrats have become the party of Wall Street as much as the party of social insurance. But it would be a real tragedy if we ended up in an America where voting was determined by racial resentment, where each party just totted up the demographic totals of their loyal categories, and policy mattered only on the margins.

 

 

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper
 
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