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March 23, 2013

The pleasure of minor illness

I am a delicate little flower. If my body temperature goes up 1%, I lose the ability to understand anything more complex than the Spartacus* series on Starz. I enter a recovery state that can only properly be called “wallowing.”

I have something a bit flu-like. It hit full force on Thursday afternoon. (To the person next to me on the plane: I am truly sorry.) I hope to be sort of back at work on Monday, and to be non-contagious enough to attend the family Seder that night. But in the interim, I’m on my back wondering just how much of my incapacity is due to my privilege. I can take days off. I can sleep in a warm spot. I can watch truly awful cable TV. I can let myself feel miserable.

And in fact, I’m not wondering at all. I know that self-indulgence is 90% of my illness. In fact, like many Americans, I have fond memories of sick days as a child, being brought cocoa and noodle soup by a loving mother, not only certain that I would be well soon, but also dreading the return to normalcy.

It must be a weird, modern, and isolated thing that a class of people can look on some types of illness as a respite, a luxury. When else in history have we had the confidence that a small disease would turn out well and the means to be so pampered while ill?


The new season of Spartacus is bad. In the first season (which I’m not proud of having watched), because the show was willing to kill off characters, there was something at risk in the fights. It was a bit like Project Runway with swords. This new season is all hackity hackity, constantly surly characters, gratuitous nudity, and low growling voices I can’t understand but don’t need to. It’s spurring me to get well so I won’t have to watch it.

If I could give the show three things, my gifts would be:

  1. Definite articles

  2. Indefinite articles

  3. Some nice trousers. Maybe gaberdine.

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June 29, 2012

[aspen] Robert Putnam on the growing class gap

Robert Putnam is giving a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival called “Requiem for the American Dream? Unequal Opportunity in America.” It’s a project in its middle stages, he says. If a book comes out of the research, it’s a year or two out.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

There’s a difference between the inequality of income and wealth, and inequality of opportunity. Historically Americans have not cared much about income inequality…less than is typical of the rest of the world. But we do care about unequal opportunity and unequal social mobility. Concern about income inequality has sometimes divided along party lines, but not opportunity inequality. Historically we’ve been better than most other countries in the distribution of opportunity.

Income distribution has become more skewed since the 1970s in America, and in many other countries. We’ve also become a more class-segregated society, even as we’ve become less segregated by race and religion. Class segregation is increasing by residence, education, organization, and marriage; i.e., it’s less likely you’ll marry outside of your class. There’s also been a fraying of family and social bonds within the working class. Robert asks if this has an effect on the growing inequality of opportunity.

He talks about his methodology. The standard way of measuring social mobility compares 30-somethings’ economic/educational/social standing with their parents’ standing when the parents were in their 30s. But this means all the action is at least twenty years old; the latest studies look at people raised in the 1980s. Robert is instead looking at today’s kids, to avoid the 20-30 year old blind spot in the rearview mirror. “If we look out the windshield, we’re about to go over a cliff when it comes to social mobility…Social mobility and opportunity are going to plummet.”

If something is important enough to write about, it ought to show up in multiple measures, he says. He will show us robust patterns in multiple data sources, focusing only on class differences. He’s only looking at white youth for now, because while racial gaps remain important, they are increasingly based on class, not race. It’s important to look at race issues, but that’s not what Robert is considering. He says if you look at race as well, the social mobility trends look even worse. So, he’s going to show us growing class gaps over the past 30 years among white kids with 2-parent families.

He shows charts. The rate of births to unmarried mothers who are college grads hasn’t changed. But the percentage of those births to women with some college and women with no college has significantly increased. About a third of the births to unmarried women are to women with some college; it’s about half for women with no college. Meanwhile, the racial gap (i.e., race controlling for class) fell dramatically while the class gap (class controlling for race) grew at about the same rate. I.e., high school educated white folks are behaving more and more like high school educated non-white folks. “I’m not saying race doesn’t matter. I’m saying class matters a whole lot more. And race matters a whole lot less.”

Another chart. ” Over the last two decades or so, white kids coming from less educated, less well-off backgrounds are more and more going through life with only one parent at home.”

A chart of the “growing class gap in enrichment expenditures [day care, tutors, games, etc., but not private school] on children, 1972-2006.” At the bottom of the hierarchy, the expenditure has increased about $400 per child over the past 40 years, but at the middle income, it’s gone up $5K.

The time people invest in their kids — reading to the kids, etc., but not including diaper changing time, etc. — again shows a growth gap between those with a higher ed and those without. In the 1970s, moms with only HS were investing slightly more time with their kids. Now the number of minutes for both is going up, the growth has been “much much faster” among college educated moms. When you add in the dads, the gap grows even larger — it’s up to an hour a day more quality time with their parents.

When in the lifecycle of the child is the class gap biggest? It’s concentrated among infants. “It’s terrible. Just terrible.”

How are kids connecting at schools? Looking at participation in extracurricular activities, and activities outside school like music lessons, dance lessons, art lessons, etc., excluding sports. (This is, he reminds us, only data about white kids, but the class gap gets worse if you add in non-white kids.) Kids in the lower income quartile have declining participation rates. Those in the highest quartile have a growing rate. (The decline began sharply in 1982.)

Same chart for participation in sports. For kids becoming team captains, it’s stayed steady for the lower quartile kids. Middle class kids were always more likely to become team captains, but now 26% of them say that they’ve been team captains. “Think about what kids are learning” from these activities: how to get along with kids, how to make connections with people who are not like them… the skill set we need in this new world. (Robert tells us HS football was invented by progressives about 100 years ago as a way to get kids from all classes playing together.)

Outside school in music, dance and art lessons: same growing gap.

There is a declining gap in participation in student government. But that’s happening in part because upper quartile kids are choosing not to participate. The other area in which the gap is declining is in “vocational clubs,” e.g., shop, motorcycle club. Again, the upper class kids are declining to participate.

Church-going: All are decreasing, but the upper third is decreasing much less rapidly. “There’s been a catastrophic drop in church attendance among children of working class parents.”

The chart of comunity volunteering is more complex, but overall the upper tercile has been rapidly increasing, while the bottom tercile has been dopping in the 2000′s. One possible explanation: Robert points out that colleges like to see community volunteering on applications.

Chart of social support: Do you have someone you can count on? Sharply increasing gap. Working class kids: it’s been pretty flat. Ask “Would you say most people can be trusted?” and you’ll see a long-term decline among the kids of parents in the bottom tercile, while the upper tercile kids have become more trusting. “And why not?” The upper class kids have plenty of social support, while the support systems are being withdrawn from the bottom tercile kids.

All this shows up in reading and math test scores. Increasing gap mapped against class. Declining gap mapped against race.

Bottom line: “There’s a growing class gap among American youth among all the predictors of success in life.” “A social mobility crash is coming” as these cohorts move into adulthood. Everyone who’s looked at the data agrees, he says.

But what has this happened? We don’t know for sure. About ten years ago he was in the White House talking with Pres. Bush, Karl Rove, and others, talking about this. (He charmingly apologizes for namedropping.) The first question W asked was “How much of this has do to family structure?” A: A little less than half. Even if you look only at 2-parent families, the gap is there but only about half of the size. None of it is due to immigration. But, suggested Robert, it might be due to the income gap. Then Laura Bush said “If you don’t know how long you’re going to keep your house or your job, you have less energy to invest in your kids.” Robert thinks this makes sense.

Possible explanations: (1) Upper class families have increased their investment in cognitive and non-cognitive development. (2) Collapse of white working class. (3) Laura Bush’s hypothesis. (4) The social safety nets are gone: churches, sports leagues, parks and rec, etc. “If the chick falls out of the nest, all that’s down there are gangs.” It is, he says, a perfect storm.

This is a problem that the two parties should be able to cooperate on, if they could cooperate about anything. We need to boost caring families, boost jobs and wages for the bottom half of the workforce, invest in public education, invest in in high quality Head Start, and have more reliable volunteer mentors. “I don’t know what else we can do to fix the problem…but if we don’t fix it we’re writing off a third of our workforce. And, it’s just not fair.” Until we think of all of these kids as our kids, “we’re in a pickle.”

Q&A

Q: Any data on kids of parents in the military?

A: I don’t have data. I wish I did because enlisted men and women are mostly drawn from the lower class, and my hunch is that their kids are doing better than non-military kids. I think that the discipline instilled into the military maybe carries over into the structure of the families.

Q: I teach HS in a rural area of OR. We got multicultural sensitivity training. I asked why aren’t we talking about class because I see it every day. I hope your work translates into teacher training.

A: Surprisingly to me, when I talk to groups, almost always when elementary school teachers speak up, they say they see this problem in their own class.

Q: Harrington, NSF, others have said the same thing over the years. This is the fourth time I’ve seen the same red flag. How does this translate into policy?

A: This particular growing gap wasn’t true in Harrington’s day. There’s always been a class gap in American society but it’s way worse than in the ’60s. I’m working on a book aimed at a mass market. We’re gathering the stories of these kids. I’m hoping that if you talk about real kids, it will get people’s attention. I desperately fear we’re going to have a partisan argument about who’s to blame, and I don’t care about that.

Q: Some will argue about the cost.

A: It’ll be much more expensive not to fix this. These lower third kids will be on unemployment and in prison….

Q: College admissions could be fixed…

A: Most of the damage is done way before then.

Q: The social safety net is under constant resource. We need govt policy and money. Our churches and philanthropies are not enough.

A: I’m a progressive Democrat so I think govt has a role to play. But this is a fundamental American issue. It does have to involve churches. I happen to think that hugs and time are more important than money, but money is important too.

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July 10, 2009

Internet freedom, but not equality

From the National Journal:

Sens. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., secured $30 million in federal funding for the State Department’s efforts to promote Internet freedom as part of the agency’s fiscal year 2010 spending bill. The program must be approved by the full Senate and the House before it makes its way to President Obama’s desk. The money would promote widespread, secure Internet use by individuals residing in countries practicing repressive Internet monitoring, censorship and control. The outlay is “a low-cost method of allowing people, especially those living under repressive regimes, to access all-source, uncensored, unfiltered information,” the senators said in a Friday press release.

“Tearing down these Internet cyberwalls can match the effect of what happened when the Berlin Wall was torn down,” Specter said. “This funding seeks to enable freedom of thought, expression and the unimpeded flow of ideas and information, and I am pleased my colleagues have recognized the program’s importance.” Brownback added the battle being waged in the streets of Iran and China is also being fought on micro-blogging site Twitter, social network Facebook and other platforms. “This is a pivotal moment for people living in oppressive regimes. The best way to ensure their ability to communicate and share their story with each other and the world is to keep the Internet open,” he said.

The House passed a State spending bill Thursday that did not include Web freedom funding but Energy and Commerce Committee member Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., earlier this week urged lawmakers to hold a hearing on the role of the Internet in giving a voice to those in repressive countries. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who in the 109th Congress chaired a high-profile Internet freedom hearing of the House subcommittee that oversees global human rights, has repeatedly introduced legislation that would prevent U.S. tech firms from working with nations that capture and convict citizens for engaging in democracy promotion and human rights advocacy online.

The NY Times reports on danah boyd’s kick-butt keynote at PDF09, in which she pointed to the class divisions in the Net:

Is the social-media revolution bringing us together? Or is it perpetuating divisions by race and class?

Many of us would like to believe the Internet is a force for unity, but danah boyd, a social-media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, thinks we’re deceiving ourselves.

Speaking last week at the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference that explores how technology is changing politics, Ms. boyd asked a packed audience of activists, political operatives, entrepreneurs and journalists to raise their hands if they use Facebook. Almost every hand in the place went up. Then she asked who uses MySpace, and barely a hand was seen.

How could that be? Sure, Facebook is growing much faster. But MySpace is far from dead. In May, Web-traffic tracker comScore reported that Facebook and MySpace are neck and neck in terms of U.S. visitors, with 70.28 million that month for Facebook, up 97% from a year ago, and 70.26 million for MySpace, down 5% from last year.

vMs. boyd got some answers from group of people she’s been hanging out with over the last four years: U.S. teens. During the 2006-2007 school year, her conversations with high-school students began showing a trend of white, upper-class and college-bound teens migrating to Facebook–much like the crowd in the conference hall has. Meanwhile, less-educated and non-white teens were on MySpace. Ms. boyd noted that old-style class arrogance was also in view; the Facebook kids were quicker to use condescending language toward the MySpace kids.

“What we’re seeing is a modern incarnation of white flight,” Ms. boyd said. “It should scare the hell out of us.”

More in the article, including research by Eszter Hargittai… [Tags: ]

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