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Bill Moyers: What Election 2012 Reveals About America and Its Shifting Racial Faultlines

Moyers speaks with two leading political observers about race and economic inequality in America.

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BILL MOYERS: But you know, I brought you together because both of you from different perspectives have been writing about the people at the bottom of our economic ladder. Is anything going to change for those people?

BOB HERBERT: You have nearly 50 million Americans who are officially classified as poor. You have another 50 million who we call the near poor or just a notch or two above the official poverty line. That's almost 100 million Americans, and that's almost a third of the entire population. If you talk about college graduates from about 2005, 2006 up until now, only about 50 percent have full time jobs of any kind and many of them are not jobs that require a college degree. And when college graduates are taking jobs that high school graduates used to have, that pushes the high school graduates out of the work force. And we know what's been happening to dropouts, I mean, they're just almost completely left behind.

We have not paid enough attention to this employment crisis in this country and we have not paid enough attention to the families who are struggling and losing their grip on the dream. I don't think either party has done a decent job in this area. I think the Republican Party is defined, and I think accurately defined as a party that looks out for the interests of the very wealthy. The Democratic Party less so, but I think they look out for the interests of the wealthy, too, before they look out for the interests of working Americans.

REIHAN SALAM: I think that we certainly have had a deep employment crisis since 2008. But I think that to my mind the crisis started much earlier on. I think when you look at the Bush years for example, if you look at the recovery that we had during that period of time, the housing boom I think actually masked some of these deeper problems.

So for example during that era you saw really dramatic losses in manufacturing employment, yet you had employment in housing construction. And so there were a lot of folks who thought, you know, "Gosh, this is something that can sustain people, a lot of these kind of men who are really struggling to get on the economic ladder."

And I think that when that went away we really saw that there was this hollowing out of the middle class, that had been going on for a very long time. And so I think that, you know, the problem is that it's not just this immediate crisis is a huge deal and I would want us to do more about the immediate crisis. But I think that there's a deeper hollowing out. And to my mind a deeper hollowing out is really about something I always like to talk about which is about networks.

When you're talking about human capital, building skills, all of these other things that, you know, we want folks to do in order to thrive in a changing economy, you've got to do that by having relationships, by being embedded in stable communities.

And in my opinion the really big issue is that when you look at mass incarceration, when you look at a lot of other social changes, when you look at family breakdown, I think that these are things that are kind of like an undertow that is shaping what we're seeing happening above the surface. And I think the problem is that policy has a very hard time dealing with some of these things. It can make a big difference on, for example we can throw fewer people in jail and destroy fewer communities and fewer lives that way.

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