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Posts Tagged ‘demographics

“The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes”*…

 

middle class

 

But is there a middle class?…

Every politician defends the middle class, but none of them knows quite what it is. In August, during a town hall, Joe Biden said, “We have to rebuild the middle class, and this time we bring everyone along.” In his telling, the middle class is part memory and part aspiration, less a demographic group than a morality tale of loss and redemption. It “isn’t a number,” Biden is fond of saying. “It’s a set of values.”

For many social scientists, though, the middle class is a matter of numbers. The Pew Research Center says that anyone who earns between a mere two-thirds of the median household income and twice that amount falls within it. By that definition, just under half of all American adults are middle class. Unlike in Britain, where the category is seen as more culturally refined, the American middle class includes blue-collar workers whose consumption patterns fit the bill; they can buy a home or put their kids through college. Biden defines the middle class even more expansively. To be middle class, he said in Iowa this summer, is to know “that your kid is safe going outside to play”—something most humans, if not most large primates, would agree they want. To be middle class is to be, well, normal.

Republicans, for their part, rarely promise to rebuild the middle class; they want, as President Trump has said, to make it “bigger and more prosperous than ever before.” But liberal politicians from Biden to Barack Obama to Elizabeth Warren often vow to restore the middle class to the former glory of the three decades after World War II—a time when, they say, prosperity was shared and class conflict neutralized.

Even then, however, there was a sense that the middle class was in crisis. In his 1956 best-seller, The Organization Man, William Whyte wrote of a middle class—an implicitly white middle class—trapped in suburbs and office jobs, shorn of the entrepreneurial individualism and wartime solidarity of earlier generations. In 1969, a New York Times reporter found in Italian-American Queens a community trapped between escalating grocery bills and the expanding “ghetto.” In 1977, the middle class was “struggling uphill,” the Chicago Tribune wrote. In 1992, it felt “betrayed” and “forgotten,” according to the Times. And since 2008, Times subscribers have read of a middle class that is “sagging,” “shrinking,” “sinking,” and “limping.” In short, the middle class, as our politicians imagine it, has never really existed [in a settled, continuous way]: It is always in decline, always on the brink of being rebuilt.

To imagine the middle class, then, is to invoke a myth. Politicians use it to bind Americans together in a shared hope that they can one day return to the lost idyll of the postwar period. In that sense, the concept is remarkably optimistic, if somewhat inconsistent. As Lawrence Samuel argues in The American Middle Class: A Cultural History, the term expresses two incompatible things: It suggests that the United States is a classless society in which most citizens belong to the same social sphere, even as it hints at a rarefied class above the middle that anyone can reach if they work hard enough to ascend the ladder of opportunity. These can’t both be true—if the United States were a classless society, there would be no need for upward mobility. The metaphor gives the lie to the myth. Every ladder, after all, has a top and a bottom—and it’s the bottom that bears all the weight…

Politicians– and business people and academics– are quick to reference “the middle class.”  John Patrick Leary (@johnpatleary) explores “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Middle Class.”

* Aristotle

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As we contemplate classification and its consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792, during George Washington’s first term as president, that the first edition of The Farmers Almanac was published.  (It became The Old Farmers Almanac in 1832 to distinguish itself from similarly-titled competitors.)  Still going strong, it is the oldest continuously-published periodical in the U.S.

Almanac source

 

Written by LW

November 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”*…

 

gerontacracy

 

Hate crime is rising, the Arctic is burning, and the Dow is bobbing like a cork on an angry sea. If the nation seems intolerant, reckless and more than a little cranky, perhaps that’s because the American republic is showing its age. Somewhere along the way, a once-new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (not men and women; that came later) became a wheezy gerontocracy. Our leaders, our electorate and our hallowed system of government itself are extremely old.

Let me stipulate at the outset that I harbor no prejudice toward the elderly. As a sexagenarian myself, not to mention as POLITICO’s labor policy editor, I’m fully mindful of the scourge of ageism. (I’ve had the misfortune on occasion to experience it firsthand.) But to affirm that America must work harder to include the elderly within its vibrant multicultural quilt is not to say it must be governed almost entirely by duffers. The cause of greater diversity would be advanced, not thwarted, if a few more younger people penetrated the ranks of American voters and American political leaders.

Let’s start with the leaders.

Remember the Soviet Politburo? In the waning years of the Cold War, a frequent criticism of the USSR was that its ruling body was preposterously old and out of touch. Every May Day these geezers would show up on a Moscow reviewing stand, looking stuffed, and fix their rheumy gaze on a procession of jackbooted Red Army troops, missiles and tanks. For Americans, the sight was always good for a horselaugh. In 1982, when Leonid Brezhnev, the last of that generation to hold power for any significant length of time, went to his reward, the median age of a Politburo member was 71. No wonder the Evil Empire was crumbling!

You see where this is going. The U.S. doesn’t have a Politburo, but if you calculate the median age of the president, the speaker of the House, the majority leader of the Senate, and the three Democrats leading in the presidential polls for 2020, the median age is … uh … 77.

It doesn’t stop there. We heard a lot last November about the fresh new blood entering Congress, but when the current session began in January, the average ages of House and Senate members were 58 and 63, respectively. That’s slightly older than the previous Congress (58 and 62), which was already among the oldest in history. The average age in Congress declined through the 1970s but it’s mostly increased since the 1980s…

Timothy Noah (@TimothyNoah1) points out that our leaders, our electorate, and our hallowed system of government itself are aging. And it shows: “America, the Gerontocracy.”

* T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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As we ponder progression, we might recall that it was on this date in 1796 that George Washington, having decided to decline a run for a third term as president, “delivered” (via a long letter published in the the American Daily Advertiser) his Farewell Address.  Characterizing it as advice from a “parting friend,” he celebrated the Constitutional logic of separation of powers and warned against permanent alliances with foreign powers, large public debts, a large military establishment, and “the devices of any small, artful, enterprising minority” to control or change the government– among many other topics.  His letter became the foundation of the Federalist Party’s political doctrine, and is considered one of the most important documents in American history. 

Starting in 1862, the Farewell Address was read, first in the House of Representatives, then from 1899 in the Senate as well on Washington’s birthday.  The House abandoned the practice in 1984, but the Senate continues the tradition.  A member of the Senate, alternating between political parties each year since 1896, reads the address aloud on the Senate floor, then upon finishing, makes an entry into a black, leather-bound journal maintained by the Secretary of the Senate .

250px-Washington's_Farewell_Address source

 

Written by LW

September 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Society is unity in diversity”*…

 

Diversity Map

 

In less than one year, the 2020 census will record just how much more racially diverse the nation has become, continuing the “diversity explosion” that punctuated the results of the 2010 census. While less authoritative than the once-a-decade national headcount, recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2018 make plain that racial minority populations—especially Hispanic, Asian and black Americans—continue to expand, leaving fewer parts of the country untouched by diversity…

From Brookings, a pre-2020 census look at the wide dispersal of the nation’s Hispanic, Asian and black populations: Six maps that reveal America’s expanding diversity.

* George Herbert Mead

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As we delight in difference, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that then 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote “The Defense of Fort M’Henry,” a poem– which provided the lyrics for the U.S. national anthem–  in which he described the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.

Indeed, he wrote lyrics beyond those most of us have heard:  a pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist campaigner, Key wrote a (now mostly omitted) third stanza that promises that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

 source

 

Written by LW

September 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“What goes up must come down”*…

 

population

 

For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia. By the late 1920s, it had hit two billion. It reached three billion around 1960 and then four billion around 1975. It has nearly doubled since then. There are now some 7.6 billion people living on the planet.

Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage…

Demographic decline– the end of capitalism as we know it?  “The Population Bust.”

See also: “UN world population report predicts slowing growth rate, 10.9 billion peak by 2100” (source of the image above) and The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in a Post-Crisis World, by Ruchir Sharma.

* Isaac Newton

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As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that the first issue of Scientific American was published.  Founded as a weekly by painter and inventor Rufus M. Porter, as a four-page weekly newspaper, its early emphasis was on a broad range of inventions ranging from perpetual motion machines, through an 1860 device for buoying vessels (created by Abraham Lincoln), to the universal joint which now can be found in nearly every automobile manufactured.  It became the somewhat more substantial monthly publication that we know and love when,in 1948, three partners (publisher Gerard Piel, editor Dennis Flanagan, and general manager Donald H. Miller, Jr) who were planning on starting a new popular science magazine, to be called The Sciences, purchased the assets of the then century-old Scientific American instead and put its name on the designs they had created for their new magazine.

Scientific_American_-_Series_1_-_Volume_001_-_Issue_01.pdf

The first issue of Scientific American

 

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”*…

 

Foudray-tables-credit-excerpt

 

Elbertie Foudray did well playing an unfair game.

Between 1920 and 1945, she became one of the United States’ most important actuaries. World class experts scheduled meetings to talk statistics with her. The life insurance industry, the developing welfare system, and the first generation of American state planners all relied on her research. Foudray’s reputation grew. And her salary also grew too. Still she did not earn even half as much as she should have and despite two decades of celebrated service and significant responsibility, Foudray couldn’t escape the ranks of the “assistant” class…

In many ways, Foudray resembles one of the “hidden figures,” whose stories Margot Lee Shetterly so wonderfully told and director Theodore Melfi brought, with delightful verve, to a theater near you. Even though Foudray’s whiteness extended her privileges not available to Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, or Katherine Johnson, like them she made crucial contributions to a major national project only to have those contributions forgotten…

America’s elite population researchers trusted Foudray, identifying her with her tables. They trusted “the Foudray life tables,” which appeared in multiple / key / works of interwar demography. When Foudray (rather typically, it seems) challenged some assumptions made in calculations by Pascal K. Whelpton—the most important population forecaster of the day—he responded that he “surely will see Miss Foudray the first time I am in Washington…” He took her seriously…

Historian Dan Bouk tells the remarkable story of an unsung hero of modern America: “Elbertie Foudray and the Adventure of Life.”

* Joseph Campbell

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As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876 that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer observed “Indian activity” and prepared his troops for the engagement that unfolded the following two days– the most prominent battle in the Great Sioux War of 1876, in which Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors annihilated five companies of the U.S. 7th Cavalry led by Custer.  Known by its Native American participants as the “Battle of the Greasy Grass,” and by most American history books as the “Battle of Little Big Horn,” it culminated with “Custer’s Last Stand” on June 26, 1876.

600px-Charles_Marion_Russell_-_The_Custer_Fight_(1903)

The Custer Fight by Charles Marion Russell

source

 

“The danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness”*…

 

Moving trucks line a streets as residents evacuate from an apartment complex which in danger of collapsing due to El Nino storm erosion in Pacifica

 

Mobility in the United States has fallen to record lows. In 1985, nearly 20 percent of Americans had changed their residence within the preceding 12 months, but by 2018, fewer than ten percent had. That’s the lowest level since 1948, when the Census Bureau first started tracking mobility.

The decline in Americans’ mobility has been staggering… Mobility rates have fallen for nearly every group, across age, gender, income, homeownership status, and marital status.

Declining mobility contributes to a host of economic and social issues: less economic dynamism, lower rates of innovation, and lower productivity. By locking people into place, it exacerbates inequality by limiting the economic opportunities for workers.

A wide range of explanations have been offered to account for these substantial declines in mobility. Many consider the culprit to be the economic crisis, which locked people into declining-value homes; others attribute it to the huge differential in the housing prices in expensive cities. Some economists contend that job opportunities have become similar across places, meaning people are less likely to move for work; others see rising student debt as a key factor that has kept young Americans in their parents’ basements.

Now, a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests that other, more emotional and psychological factors may be at work…

Powerful psychological factors connect people to places, and often mean more to them than money: “Why Some Americans Won’t Move, Even for a Higher Salary.”

[This is an issue that is likely to become more acute as climate change forces millions of Americans to “retreat” to safer and/or more arable ground.]

* Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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As we contemplate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that a German the St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner, was forced to sail back to Europe after more than 900 of its passengers (primarily German-Jewish refugees) were refused entry by Cuba; over 200 of these refugees would later die in the Holocaust.

The St. Louis departed Germany for Cuba on May 13. The majority of the 937 passengers were German Jews fleeing the increasing discrimination and violence against Jews under Hitler, and many planned to stay in Cuba only until they received U.S. visas. However, unbeknownst to most of the passengers, a week before the ship sailed, the Cuban government invalidated one of the types of travel documents held by the refugees.

When the ship arrived in Cuba on May 27, fewer than 30 passengers—those who had the proper papers—were allowed to disembark. Despite days of negotiations, the Cuban government could not be persuaded to allow the refugees to enter. Leaving Cuban waters on June 2, the ship sailed near the Florida coast. Passengers petitioned President Roosevelt for refuge but received no answer. The St. Louis was finally forced to return to Europe on June 6.

refugees source

 

Written by LW

June 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”*…

 

populationmap

Change in population aged 65 and older, 2010-2023. [Screenshot: ESRI]

 

We’re all getting older. It’s the one thing that every single person alive right now has in common. But we’re also getting older as a population, with Americans both living longer and having fewer children. Census projections show a major demographic shift already underway and accelerating in the years to come.

At the same time, populations are not aging evenly, and issues related to aging will impact individual communities in vastly different ways, boosting economic opportunity in some areas while putting a strain on social services in others.

For instance, real estate developers that invest in progressive senior housing projects now could benefit down the road as demand for modern facilities that cater to active seniors grows. Similarly, American tech companies will see opportunity in developing innovative high-tech solutions for senior care, such as health-monitoring devices, ride-share services aimed at seniors, and care-bots. (Take a look at how Japan has embraced high-tech solutions for its aging population for more on how that might play out in the United States.)

On the flip side, social safety nets are likely to face increasing financial challenges with the continued retirement of America’s Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom will reach 67 by 2031. As that happens, rural counties—where people on average rely on Social Security as a larger portion of their overall income—may disproportionately feel the economic effects of aging.

One way to sort out who will be most impacted by aging is to look at age demographics across the country and how they will change over time…

America is aging, but not evenly: “7 maps that tell the incredible story of aging in America.”

See also this essay by Don Norman, the 83 year-old dean of user-centered design (author of The Design of Everyday Things and a former VP at Apple): “I wrote the book on user-friendly design. What I see today horrifies me.”

* Robert Frost

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As we stand up to senescence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Peter Townsend wrote “My Generation”– inspired by the Queen Mother, who’d had his 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street in Belgravia because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through the neighborhood.  The song was released as a single later that year and became first a hit, then an anthem.

 

Written by LW

May 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

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