Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Intergenerational mobility

While I am out: Look at this paper on intergenerational mobility in the US, Britain, and Europe. Basically, if you were born poor in the USA, you will die poor. If you were born rich in the USA, you will die rich. It isn't a perfect correlation, there are exceptions, but it's close enough -- intergenerational mobility in Europe is much higher, if you were born poor in the Netherlands you have more chance of dying middle class than if you were born poor in the USA, where you will likely die poor. The oft-quoted statistic that "there is class mobility in the USA" is nonsense that does not account for career progression -- the son of a middle-class parent will typically be lower class or working class in his or her early career, then will move up into middle class positions as he or she ages, which makes it seems like there is class mobility in the US. But there isn't. He just progressed to where his parents were, no further.

What does this mean? It means The American Dream is a fraud, sold to us by the same elites who have systematically closed off the majority of ways for the lower classes to join their ranks. After all, Paris Hilton's mommy and daddy certainly don't want their little darling to have to compete with some upstart in her life, eh? The American Dream is dead, Rest In Peace.

I am a member of the last generation for whom the American Dream was real. When I came of age, there were still industrial jobs for the poor to take so that they could work their way out of poverty. When I came of age, tuition for poor kids was 100% paid by Pell Grants with plenty left over to pay for textbooks. If you did not qualify for Pell Grants, tuition at most state universities was ridiculously low -- for example, it was $265 per semester at University of Louisiana/Lafayette in 1982, and $172 per semester at University of Houston that same year (both in-state figures, out of state paid significantly more). This meant that working class parents who made too much for grants could still afford to pay cash to send their children to state universities close to home. Today... none of that is true. The generation covered by the above paper were born starting in 1970, and came of age after Ronald Reagan had gutted Pell Grant funding and block grant programs to the states that allowed them to provide inexpensive education to their citizens. After all, there were tax cuts for the rich that had to be made, and $600 hammers to be bought for the Department of Defense to enrich Reagan's war profiteer cronies. So the tax cuts for the rich were taken out of the hides of the poor and working class. The kids never had a chance, dammit.

And they know it. That inner city school I taught at? The only kids who still bought the American Dream there were the slow kids. The rest... they knew. They knew that this hell they were born into was what their life would always be. So they soothed the pain with drugs, or guns, or alcohol, or cynically decided that a life of crime was their way "out" of the hell they were born into. The working class kids I taught in a rural area? They knew. They knew that their parents' jobs were going away to Vietnam and Malaysia and China, that they had no future, no hope. They didn't even bother applying to universities, there was no money for a kid who was just a regular kid rather than being super-smart or something. The middle class today? They know. Thus their frantic efforts to make sure their child makes it into the "right" schools at the K-12 level, gets the "right" teachers, takes the "right" advanced placement classes and the "right" extracurriculars so they can get into the "right" college. They know, they know that if their child falls out of the middle class, that's it -- their child, and their grandchildren, will be poor forever. They know the American Dream is dead. Yet they try to pretend it isn't, in their frantic efforts to make sure their own child doesn't become yet another victim of a dead dream that was the American Dream.

And so it goes, in the United States of Delusion, where we pretend that there is a such thing as the American Dream even though it is long dead, spiked through the heart by Ronald Reagan's "compassionate conservatism" and doubly-spiked by every President thereafter including Bill Clinton who put a friggin' post-hole digger through its chest in 1996 by signing a "welfare reform" law that basically cut off all federal aid for poor people going to school for additional education, instead forcing them into low-paying dead-end jobs. We now have a system where the oligarchs who rule us are guaranteed that their children shall remain our rulers, and where the only American Dream is a lie that won't come true for the majority of Americans. And nobody seems to notice, or to care, or dare to say the truth: The American Dream is dead, R.I.P.

But it could live again, if we dared. But that would require admitting unpleasant truths. No, no, far better to believe the lies, the smooth soothing lies from Faux News and Hate Radio that blame anybody, everybody who isn't you, for the fact that you live a life of misery and your children will live lives of misery and your children's children will live lives of misery. In a nation of liars, the man who tells the truth is condemned as a heretic, and swiftly stoned. So it goes, so it goes...

-- Badtux the Can't-keep-his-beak-shut Penguin

Added: Appropriate music.


  1. Basically, if you were born poor in the USA, you will die poor.

    I was born poor, I've lived poor and I've lived well off. But I've always had a roof over my head and food in my gut.

    How I live now would be considered by many as poor, but I have no complaints, I have a roof over my head and food in my gut.

    It's better than a lot of monkeys on this planet have, and I'm thankful for it.

    Thankful enough that I try to help others with their lives.

  2. What amazes me is how many people buy into the lie, grasp it firmly to their chest in spite of the evidence to the contrary. I guess it's easier that way than to face the truth.

    But then, people who grow up in fucked-up abusive families think that EVERYONE lives like they do, where mom's a drunk and dad is violent. People in North Korea think they live in a worker's paradise.

    People are fecking stupid. I wonder if they will be all that bothered when they die a miserable death, or whether it wil seem like a relief to have it all over with?

    I gotta say, Tux, you seem more consistently bitter these days. Not that it isn't deserved. But would you say that your black cynicism has gotten deeper since the days you wrote about frozen pizza and pho girls?

  3. Hoo boy, Bukko. You should have seen me in early 2005 if you wanted to see me at my most cynical. The pizza and pho girls phase came around when I took a break from blogging, except I seem unable to take a break from blogging, there's too much evil shit happening nowdays, like these reptilian Republicans who think the only freedom that counts is the freedom to profit from the labors of their fellow men and are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and defraud to secure that "freedom". These asshats have pushed me out of the Libertarian fringe into full-blown socialism, because their reptilian evil-ness has become so repulsive that it needs a fucking stake through its heart once and for all.

    Bitter? Yeah I'm bitter. I grew up in a time of hope, when we were moving forward as a nation and as a society, when state-sanctioned bigotry was being wiped off the laws and Medicare was being enacted and all that other good shit that happened amidst the bad shit of the 1950's and 1960's. And then slam. Our society slammed itself into a brick wall and keeps pounding its head into that wall of "compassionate conservatism" and saying "it feels good, see? I like it!". There are none so blind as those who refuse to see... our nation was moving forward until Reagan. Since then, the economy has grown slower, the rich have gotten richer and the poor gotten nowhere, and many of our freedoms, such as the freedom to travel freely and the freedom to have cash money in our car as we travel, have been taken from us by the "war on terrorism" and the "war on drugs". Bitter? You bet. But it's a bitterness that's been a long time coming and is utterly unrelated to anything happening in my personal life (where I'm doing quite well) and more about sadness for the current generations, which have nowhere near the chances that my generation.

    The American Dream. R.I.P.

    - Badtux the Funeral Penguin

  4. I need to put together a coherent post about how fucked up things have become since Reagan. I have all the data. GDP growth. Wealth disparity. Unemployment. Job creation. Everything the Republicans touch turns to shit.

    Tux - I don't believe that even your generation has a shot at the dead dream. My generation was the last, and I was born in Dec. 1946. Fuck being rich - My view of the dream was that a kid could grow up and be a little better off than his parents were. I can't say that's playing out for my kids.

    JzB the disturbingly nostalgic trombonist

  5. I ain't gonna say how old I am. Let's just say that yes, I did end up better off than my parents, who were both working class with one community college degree amongst them, earned by my mother while I was in fourth grade so she could go to work as a nurse. The dream was still there for my generation, and some of us made it come true. Today... no fuckin' way. She's dead, Jim.

    - Badtux the Relatively Affluent Penguin

  6. Anyway, heretics are burned at the stake. It's adulteresses who get stoned.

    And Bob Dylan, of course.


    JzB the non-witch-hunting trombonist

  7. Jazzbumpa, I thought that was Willie Nelson?

    - Badtux the Snarky Musical Penguin


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