Sunday, March 06, 2011

DC is Booming. America is Not.

That's the core problem facing America, according to The Nation's Christopher Hayes. We all know that DC doesn't give a rat's ass about America's dubious jobs situation, where so many people are out of work and so many MORE people are under-employed. But Hayes has come up with one good reason why:

I think there are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it.

The first is 4.2. That’s the percentage of Americans with a four-year college degree who are unemployed. It’s less than half the official unemployment rate of 9 percent for the labor force as a whole and one-fourth the underemployment rate (which counts those who have given up looking for work or are working part time but want full-time work) of 16.1 percent. So while the overall economy continues to suffer through the worst labor market since the Great Depression, the elite centers of power have recovered. For those of us fortunate enough to have graduated from college—and to have escaped foreclosure or an underwater mortgage—normalcy has returned.

The other number is 5.7 percent. That’s the unemployment rate for the Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metro area and just so happens to be lowest among large metropolitan areas in the entire country. In 2010 the DC metro area added 57,000 jobs, more than any in the nation, and now boasts the hottest market for commercial office space. In other words: DC is booming. You can see it in the restaurants opening all over North West, the high prices that condos fetch in the real estate market and the general placid sense of bourgeois comfort that suffuses the affluent upper- and upper-middle-class pockets of the region.
Hayes goes on to point out that for those living in the midst of that sort of boom, it's very difficult to see that the rest of America is hurting. Sure, you understand it on an intellectual level. But it just doesn't feel real when you aren't personally exposed to it.

We know what they can do when there's a personal connection. It's been (quite literally) scientifically proven that DC Politicians only really pay attention to the concerns of the wealthiest 10% of Americans, as Hayes reminds us. With that in mind, is it any wonder that they responded to the market crash quickly and decisively, and yet are dragging their feet while less-connected Americans continue their slow slide to unemployability?

That brings Hayes, and us, right back to Wisconsin.

There is only so much social distance a society can take. The social science literature shows that as social distance increases, trust declines and aberrant and predatory behavior increases. The basic mechanisms of representation erode, and the social fabric tears. “An imbalance between rich and poor,” Plutarch warned, “is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

It’s against this backdrop of creeping dissolution that the word “union” takes on a renewed power. That’s why the struggles of the protesters in Wisconsin have resonated so profoundly. In banding together to oppose Republican Governor Scott Walker’s power grab, the students, teachers, cops, firefighters and neighbors have willed themselves to shrink the social distance those in power are cynically using to pit constituencies against one another. Walker exempted cops and firefighters from his bill’s radical limits on collective bargaining, but they joined the protests anyway. “An assault on one is an assault on all,” proclaimed Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association president Mahlon Mitchell.

It’s in Wisconsin and across the Midwest that union members like Mitchell and his allies are showing us the antidote to the social distance that threatens the core of American democracy.
The Republicans know this quite well. That's the reason Walker's trying to bring down the Wisconsin public unions, and why the Republicans' various mouthpieces are bashing unions everywhere and every time they can. They know that this disconnect could easily convince the "other America" that they need to band with each other, instead of looking to their "betters" to solve things for them.

The American people are also starting to understand the situation. That's why the polls are showing that—despite all the anti-Union agitation of the Republicans' mouthpieces, the Kochs' various hirelings, and every corporation in the country—the American people support Wisconsin's public workers instead of Walker and his lot.

So the only group that doesn't understand this, as usual, are the DC Democrats. They're the ones who are so busy gobbling up corporate cash that they've forgotten that, as the old song goes, "the Union makes them strong". They're the ones who are disconnected with the "other 90%" when they shouldn't be. And they're the ones who need to reconnect, if they're ever going to be able to do more than pass Republican policies under a Democratic name.

(Edit: Added missing link.)

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