June Cross The press has missed the calcification of social mobility. In New York, nannies and home-healthcare services are predominantly West Indian or African immigrants. They work for minimum wage, often without overtime, and until Obamacare kicks in next year, many won’t have access to healthcare themselves. (And in the nine states that refuse to expand Medicaid, there will be even more.) American society is becoming stratified in ways that summon images of India. The lack of access to a decent education has made it more and more difficult for black American children in public schools to rise above their station.
Latoya Peterson Conversations about social mobility fascinate me, because they happen in two separate spheres: the economics section, where the decline of solid middle-class jobs is documented, and the personal-interest (style) section, which illustrates the broader structural workings of poverty. I’d love to see the two converge a bit more. A [December] Washington Post piece [about Pennsylvania teenager Tabitha Rouzzo] frustrated me: The article was a voyeuristic view of poverty, with questionable items presented with no further comment or investigation. The reporter followed Tabitha’s story well, but ignored the rest of the family—and most people aren’t in poverty alone.
When Tabitha’s sister decides to stop going to school, there is no further investigation or understanding. Was she being bullied? Was she depressed? Did she, like so many others, [get] worn down by feeling like a failure each day? I feel like the relative level of privilege in the press corps leads us to miss some key aspects to stories about social mobility—links to mental health, addiction, or collapsing social systems are often under-explored. Does it make sense to have a welfare policy that discourages people from working? Does it make sense to allow a minimum wage that is not a living wage? The framework is vital.
I’ve loved the reporting on the mounting [financial] pressure on Americans, particularly the crowdsourced stories on Tumblr. Yahoo did a project called Down But Not Out, putting faces and stories to the long-term unemployed, then expanding to looking at mortgages and student loans.
A clear theme is emerging: Americans bought into the Dream (home ownerships and college educations) without realizing how the reality of those dreams has changed. In combination with a competitive, machine-aided, global workforce, Americans have lost ground and found themselves unable to catch a break—much less a bootstrap. And I think we are only seeing the beginning of the stories.
Carmen Wong Ulrich Social mobility is tied to access to education—affordable, non-crippling-debt college education. Granted, we need even better high-school graduation rates and grades from black/Latino kids, too, but once these kids get into college, the dropout rates are higher for poor minorities, and rates of “bad” student loan debt (read: private loans) are too high. I’d love more education for minority students on how to manage the college system/process, personally and culturally, as well as how to pay for it in a smarter way. While mentoring and working with Latino and black students going into college for the past 15-plus years, the lack of clear, informed strategies to get that degree is frightening. I get the question, “Is this degree worth it?” Hell yes. [But the process] needs to be directed, treated like what it is: an investment, and a business/economic/life strategy.
To Vivek’s point about entrepreneurism, keep in mind that many of us have/had no financial safety net or support, should a business fail, and education is key to economic growth in a less risky way. When there’s no net, you’re more likely to not swing so high.
Farai Chideya How are we supposed to describe class stratification in a country that claims not to have class?
I loved the recent piece by [Salon staff writer] Mary Beth Williams, “On not being middle class in New York City” [which appeared on her personal Tumblr]: “a classically tunnel-visioned New York Times feature about what it means to be middle class in Manhattan. The Times would have you believe that to live in the Apple, you’re going to need about $235K a year. . . . [W]hen the Times runs a feature like that, it treats the millions of New Yorkers who are somehow getting by and raising families and living with basic human dignity like they’re invisible. That pisses me off.”