Friday, December 12, 2014


The New York Times has a big story today titled "The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind." It's a worthwhile story -- but such stories inevitably lead to awful exchanges like this:

I was going to respond to this on Twitter, but the response requires more than 140 characters.

The Times story is about a class of worker that, because this is a majority-white nation, is inevitably going to include a lot of white people. The story and accompanying slide show focus on five men -- four white, one black. They represent a segment of the population that mostly lacks college degrees -- and as a result they're struggling in the current job market:
The share of prime-age men -- those 25 to 54 years old -- who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent.

... it has become harder for men to find higher-paying jobs. Foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated many of the jobs in which high school graduates like Mr. Walsh once could earn $40 an hour, or more. The Times poll found that 85 percent of prime-age men without jobs do not have bachelor’s degrees. And 34 percent said they had criminal records, making it hard to find any work.
The economic policies we needed after the Great Recession hit would have put a lot of these men to work. If we could have done that, it would have been useful across racial lines.

At the same time, what Jonathan Alter says in the tweet above is right: this is why Democrats are getting killed with white male voters. That's because whites are far less patient with Democratic politicians and policies than non-whites are.

Let me say this one more time, so I'm not misunderstood: I'm not suggesting that post-crash economics should have favored whites over non-whites. What I'm saying is that the policies should have focused on blue-collar workers of all races.

The result of that would be that blue-collar whites would have seen themselves as among the beneficiaries of Obama economic policies, in a way they don't now. That might have led them to believe that the overall Obama approach was appropriate and fair. For instance, they might not resent Obamacare now if more of them had been able to obtain jobs after the crash.

I know, I know: I'm imagining an America in which Obama could have gotten a lot more than he did early in his presidency. That's true -- but if that's unrealistic, then Obama should have expended as much political capital as possible on jobs, even at the expense of Obamacare, because if a rising tide could have lifted a lot of boats, the white majority might now be ready to offer backup to him as he pursued goals that whites might regard as less relevant to their interests. It's still a white country, after all, and we still have elections, and in midterm elections especially, whites routinely vote. Like it or not, the Democrats needed the buy-in of white voters. I think this could have been achieved with policies that were trans-racial but class-conscious.

Republicans knew that, of course -- they didn't want a lot of people put back to work. They got the recovery they sought: skewed toward the rich and engendering anti-Democratic resentment among blue-collar whites.

And if you're wondering why it matters that the people in the Times story are all men, well, it's a stratum in which men have traditionally been the principal breadwinners, and in which the best-paying jobs were traditionally male jobs until not that long ago. Maybe jobs that good are never coming back -- but something needed (and still needs) to be done to cushion that shock -- for struggling whites and struggling non-whites.


Victor said...

PPACA passing, was a minor miracle in and of itself.
And as its long-term benefits accrue, it will make people more partial to Democrats - but only if Democrats stop running away from their signature legislation.

And there was NO WAY Republicans would have approved of a larger stimulus package.
The stimulus package that passed was meager, with far too many tax breaks instead of cash.

If 'if's and but's were candy and nuts...'

Steve M. said...

Republicans were as determined to block Obamacare as they were to block a second stimulus. Obamacare passed anyway.

Ken_L said...

I don't know what else could realistically have been attempted to help workers avoid the pain of structural adjustment in the economy. I thought Obama did well to bale out the car industry, but he doesn't seem to have got any credit for it - just criticism. Depression-style infrastructure projects would not have created many jobs for these kinds of workers: construction is capital-intensive these days and requires highly skilled, well-trained labour. It's not like the FDR days when you could give a few million blokes picks and shovels and tell them to get to work.

It's easy to say Democrats would have been more successful if they'd done more to help white working class men, but I've yet to read any persuasive account of actual concrete programs that would have been both effective and politically feasible.

John Taylor said...

Obama might have underestimated both the depth of the crash and the intransigence of the GOP. In any case, he couldn't get a larger stimulus or jobs program past Congress. Would anything have been gained by abandoning Affordable Care? I doubt it.

Steve M. said...

It looked as if he couldn't get Obamacare past Congress after the summer of '09, and especially after Scott Brown's election in early '10. So how did that happen?

Philo Vaihinger said...


Philo Vaihinger said...

>>Like it or not, the Democrats needed the buy-in of white voters. I think this could have been achieved with policies that were trans-racial but class-conscious.

Second sentence, perfectly right.

First sentence, why wouldn't you like it? Pure, racist dislike of white people, white America, and even America since it is, as you say, a white country?

Philo Vaihinger said...

Many are the liberals these days who think O should have focused on jobs creation and dealing with issues of inequality instead of on Obamacare, somehow itself not perceived as an issue of class or anyway as one sufficiently pressing.

It is believed that throughout his tenure he has not sufficiently focused on the working class – aka “middle class” in American political writing – and that this lack of focus has helped strengthen a perception among white voters of that class that the Democrats are not their party, any more.

Meanwhile, it is acknowledged that such class conscious policies would have benefitted by no means only white Americans or white Americans of the working class but Americans of all races.

And few would be so bigoted as to say that O has been sweating to advance the position or agenda of blacks in particular.

Sure, his cabinet and staff are too black to look like America.

But any suggestion he has neglected the white working class to be a black people’s president would be some sort of Klan delusion.

All which amounts to saying he would have been a better president for black people had he been a better president for white workers, and in just the same measure.

All the same, the impression has been created during his presidency more than any other in recent decades among whites and maybe not only among whites that the Democrats have become all too seriously the part of non-whites and anti-American, counter-cultural radicals, a party not only devoted mostly to the interests and aspirations of such folks but actually hostile to whites.

And that has deepened the alienation of whites, and in particular the white working class, from the Democrats.

The greatest part of the responsibility for this does not lie with O or his White House, his staff, or his policies.

It lies with repeated deluges of liberal, radical, black, and feminist propaganda attacking Republicans not over issues of class but for being men, for being white, and for being a party of white men all of whom in America hate women, gays, and everybody of all other races and religions.

That propaganda expresses the venom and wins the hearts and minds of a base that really does loathe pretty much everything about the ordinary white person, and especially the ordinary white male, in the United States.

But with every passing year it makes the Democratic Party less and less the progressive party of all of the non-rich and more and more the bigoted, narrow party of non-working class interests.

And I haven’t said a word about the abysmal impact on the American working class of mass, low-wage immigration, killer competition from overseas manufacturing thanks to free trade, and climate deals that paralyze American production to the advantage of those same overseas centers of manufacturing, on which issues the agenda of the Democrats is even worse for American workers than the agenda of Main Street, and apart from immigration even Wall Street, Republicans.

For the American working class of all races though in the minds mostly of the white working class, voting is a choice between enemies, between Republicans who would destroy every remaining vestige of the gains of a century of progressivism including Social Security and Medicare and Democrats whose policies also kill wages, jobs, and their future and even put Social Security and Medicare at risk.

The Republicans are their devoted class enemies, and even say so with their well know lust to destroy progressivism.

But the Democrats are also their enemies, doing little or nothing to protect them from conservative policies that hurt them in trade and economics and constantly beating the hell out of them because they are white, because they are male, because they are Christians, and because they are Americans.

As time passes, more and more such Americans see the Republicans, not the Democrats, as the less hostile party.

Whose fault is that?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe his first priority wasn't a huge bill to stimulate the economy with "shovel-ready" projects.

John Taylor said...

Yes, he put a lot of political capital into getting the ACA through Congress. Obama obviously thought he could then pivot to the economy. Hindsight is amazing, isn't it?

Steve M. said...

Some people knew at the time that Obama had limited political capital and needed to pick his battles, and health care was probably not the best choice once the teabaggers defined it more effectively than the White House. I'm no Rahm fan, but Emanuel was one of them. And I wrote posts to that effect at the time. This was before the bill passed.

Creag said...

My beef continues to be not that Obama could have done more, but that (1) he didn't aggressively and articulately try to do more - because trying brings recognition, support and even votes from those who your policies are designed to help - and (2) he did such a poor job of explaining to the general public the benefit of what he was attempting to do. Even on health care reform. Certainly it was a mistake for Democrats to run away from ACA but Obama's promotion of what was accomplished was so half-hearted you can partially excuse it. When I hear his excuse which he has offered at least twice, i.e. (roughly) "I maybe erred in thinking that if we got the policy right support would fall into place," I'm left dumbfounded. The man seems to think he can govern without cultivating political friendships with other politicians, not even members of his own party!, and that things will all fall into place if he gets the policy right. And progressives are left wondering why their edge of the Democratic Party is falling apart?!

Unknown said...

You fell for the bait - the NYT articles was sourced to a "report" by two right wing think tanks and then used cherry picked interviews to validate the right wing talking points - lazy men aren't getting married and working because of video games and social security disability! The quote Tyler Cowen FFS! AEI and Brad Wilcox/Regnerus spun the NYT like a top and apparently no one noticed that the reason "white men" aren't working is that there aren't any jobs!