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Old 05-14-2013, 09:44 AM
 
Location: "Daytonnati"
4,244 posts, read 6,434,827 times
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I'm sort of interesting in the collapse of the middle class since I live in a community that saw a big decline in employment and living wage jobs since 1970...a long term process...of generational downward mobility and lowered incomes and standards of living. So Ive been reading a lot on this subject.

Here are some books that I am reading, have read, or plan on reading. They are not specifically on this subject, but are relevant to it.

The books start out with personal stories then get more general & historic. Finally, some responses.

Down the Up Escalator

Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession by Barbara Garson | NOOK Book (eBook), Hardcover, Audiobook | Barnes & Noble

...this is a series of interviews about the 'New Unemployed', with the author travelling around the country interviewing people. A good sequel would be to come back in a few years to see how these people end up...particularly the college educated "knowlege workers" in the Pink Slip Club in the first section. More relevant to me is the section on intergenerational work set in Evansville (a place not unlike Dayton, where I live)

On the list, but havn't read it yet (the only book on this list I havent read) is this book:

Not Working

Not Working: People Talk about Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today's Changing Economy by D. W. Gibson | 9780143122555 | Paperback | Barnes & Noble

Sounds to be somewhat similar. Also about the 'New Unemployed'.

So what happens to be people when they run out of options? You end up in...

Someplace Like America

Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression: Dale Maharidge, Michæl S. Williamson, Bruce Springsteen: 9780520262478: Amazon.com: Books

..which is one of my absolute favorite books. The authors reprise an earlier book, which could be seen as sort of a "romance of the rails', but shouldnt be. The earlier book is

Journey To Nowhere

Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass: Dale Maharidge, Michael Williamson, Bruce Springsteen: 9780786882045: Amazon.com: Books

...which adds the historical dimension, as its about the fallout of the deindustrialization of the Midwest, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, sort of an early warning of where we are at now and where we are headed. Something that has personal resonance since I was caught up in that bout of mass unemployement & 'no work to be had'.

Scaling up from the personal hard-luck stories are to long-view/big picture books. Recently published:

Who Stole the American Dream

Who Stole the American Dream?: Hedrick Smith: 9781400069668: Amazon.com: Books

Hedirck Smith, an establishment journalist gone rogue, "explains it all to you" (but skip his final chapters on "what should we do", which are a "postive tack-on" IMO). This is a good book in that it ties together and wraps up with a pretty pink slip bow the various economic crisis we have been going through AND takes the long view, setting the stage for the current predicament, and fingering the 1970s as the decade when it starts to go sour:

Focusing on the 1970s, labor historian Jefferson Cowie wrote...

Staying Alive

Amazon.com: Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (9781595587077): Jefferson R. Cowie: Books

...sort of a history of the 1970s as seen through a blue collar POV. Cowie is actually a pretty good writer for an academic, making dry stuff interesting. He does address the pop culture of the time, too, which is sort of fun reading. The 70s was my high school and college years, so I really appreciated this book. This and the early chapters of Who Stole the American Dream could be read together to give a good historical picture to set the stage for our modern-day downward mobility.

@@@@@

The above are sort of where we're at and how we got here (avoiding the political angle, more the systemic issues, and the history, since yours truley is a big history buff)

I think going forward lower incomes, hard-to-find-work, and downward mobility will be a fact of life, forcing a re-look at lifestyles. Not too much out there on that.

Here are two books of maybe redefining lifestyle to accomodate downward mobility. I have not read this book, but it sounds like a coping strategy:


Voluntary Simplicity

Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Revised edition): Duane Elgin: 9789780688127: Amazon.com: Books

(though for a lot of folks this would be Involuntary Simplicity)

The VS movement sounds sort of PC/New Agey. A bit like Marie Anoinette play acting as a peasant woman at Petit Trianon, since it is sort of upper-middle-class educated people who "opt out" vs being forced out..

But maybe there is something there in the concept for people who are being cut out of consumer society, or making less or affodring less than their parents did, or they themselves once did.

....and there is this book, which isnt about downward mobility, but the author proposes the concept of "neo bohemia' as a lifestyle choice used to cope with the low-pay, contingent work environment we are moving into, set in a geographical confine of a Chicago neighborhood.

Neo Bohemia

Amazon.com: Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City (9780415870979): Richard Lloyd: Books


I read this book for the urbanist aspect and becuase of my interest in bohemia and in Chicago, but it had the unexpected side-benefit of being a primer on how to cope with downward mobility using a lifestyle strategy (see also the chapter on Evansville in "Down the Up Escalator").

@@@@@

The Book That Has Yet To Be Written

...the book I would like to see....

...is the book that takes some of the cases studies or personal stories, say of a family, and traces downward mobility across the generations, and one that traces one person or families fall, and how they end up in old age.

All too often these books just give you a snapshot, but we never hear the end of the story, say 15 or 20 years on. The closest that comes to that are Maharidge and Williamsons two books...Someplace Like America and Journey to Nowhere, where they do do some follow-up interviews. Theres's a bit of this in Staying Alive, too.

@@@@

I know this is sort of grim subject, something we dont like to talk about or contemplate, but I think I should face the situation, unpleasant as it may be. Though this could be seen as a political post, I think its more an economics issue or a response to changing nature of economics. What we ourselves can do and how we respond to the changing economc world, managing expectations...

Three other concepts. Just aphorisms to close by:

"
Quote:
Stay Hungry/Stay Foolish
":...from one of the Whole Earth Catalogues

"
Quote:
We must tend our own gardens
": Voltaire, via Candide, in Candide.

"
Quote:
Go with the Flow
": Ken Kesey, as quoted by Tom Wolfe in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.
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Old 05-14-2013, 12:37 PM
 
Location: Londonderry, NH
41,478 posts, read 54,519,867 times
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What happens when the AI designs the product, they 3D printers make the parts and the robots assemble and ship it in the UPS automatic trucks to the computer controlled airplanes? I wonder who is going to buy the stuff and where will they get the money?

Effectively automation has created a mechanical slave class that produces but only consumes a few parts and electricity. These mechanical robots and the computers that guide them do not buy anything. They have vastly improved productivity, profit and ROI but those benefits are sent to the investor class. These people make investments and there are not near enough of them to justify mass production for their high end consumption.

The problem is mass production requires mass markets to consume the products at a high enough price to make a profit for the investors. Our current economy has removed the money needed by the mass consumers to but the mass production. Easy credit has delayed the full effect but the credit is also a consumable that is running out of consumers.

Last edited by GregW; 05-14-2013 at 12:50 PM..
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Old 05-14-2013, 12:45 PM
 
Location: "Daytonnati"
4,244 posts, read 6,434,827 times
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^
...when it gets to that point it sounds like we are near that Singularity that the tech geeks talk about.
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:32 PM
 
Location: Tennessee
29,637 posts, read 22,575,971 times
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I think the issue of downward mobility is here to stay and is a question most people want to avoid. I have family and friends scattered about the country. Of those that have stayed in Tennessee (where I grew up and still live), most of us in our 20s appear to be worse off than our parents were in their 20s. Industries that used to be dominant and paid a middle class living, like manufacturing, mining, and tobacco farming, are shadows of their former selves and/or have been regulated to death. Those jobs have been replaced by lower paying, lower end work like call centers, senior care, and more retail/restaurant work. The only fields that seem to guarantee a middle class lifestyle here are government workers (including teachers) and mid to high skilled health care occupations. Even professions like accounting and engineering have had a greatly reduced presence in the area as these types of jobs have been automated, offshored, or have completely moved into major metros.

I also have some family on both sides of the family outside Orlando. Their standard of living has declined substantially as both the husband and wife were in banking and laid off. They cannot relocate easily as the house is underwater and they have two small children. He's now working retail and I think she was able to stay in banking, albeit with a pay cut. The other family members are retired, lived in Florida for years, and as far as I know, seem to be doing fine.

I also have some family in Riverside, CA. He had his house paid for before the bust and also owns a second home. He's doing okay, probably slightly better than his siblings who remained in TN, save for one who was adopted young after the great-grandparents died and became a wealthy politician.

My parents were married at 21 in 1978 and had been homeowners for several years by the time they reached my current age (27). My parents were also able to get jobs in their field, which was elementary education, but only in a very rural area - I have not been able to get anything close to my field (finance/economics) anywhere I go and am working in an unrelated industry. My income is only slightly above where my dad's was in 1990 in absolute terms, and while I'm not making great money, I'm not low income, especially for the area. My dad's income has been flat for nearly twenty years. Instead of commuting 20-30 miles a day for work, he's now commuting 100 miles a day to make $15/hr today. They've blown through most of their nest egg and I'm very worried about them as they push 60 and near their retirement years. They refuse to relocate. Some of my peers' parents were able to keep their middle class jobs over the last ten years or so, but many of our parents were laid off and have only found lower paying work and have been kicked from the middle class into the working class or even working poor.

My grandparents' generation was the one that really moved up. Both sets of my grandparents grew up very poor on subsistence farms in TN and VA. Both sets of grandparents own their own homes outright on modest incomes and were able to put back at least $100,000 (fairly decent considering their income levels). Their lifestyles were dramatically better than that of their parents. They have all lived longer than their parents (only 1/4 of my grandparents is dead), had more money, nice homes, been able to go more places, etc. Objectively, their lives were probably the best mix of amenities and financial security.

Since we're from Appalachia, I'm not sure our story could be generalized out to better areas because the area has been perpetually poor. It's also difficult to tease out whether a generational fall was due to downward mobility and a general decline in economic conditions or to other things. My parents HAD teaching jobs in areas that they didn't find desirable. I think they would have been better off to have kept teaching (even in a bad area) instead of quitting the profession, relocating back to TN, and then dad entered manufacturing. However, it's all hindsight, and no one knew in 1980 that by 2010 manufacturing would collapse in the area, and that it would be the teachers raking in the dough. So many things can affect a family's fortune that are not directly related to general economic conditions - errors in their personal lives (acrimonious divorce, bad or failed relocation, profligate spending), errors in their professional lives (failed business venture, bad or dead-end career choice, excessive student loan debt), and dysfunctional government (poor policy making, high taxes, corruption, inertia) that's difficult if not possible to attribute what is caused by what.

Still, I think there are a couple of guidelines people need to follow going into the future.

1) If your position is particularly vulnerable to automation or offshoring, you're on thin ice.

2) Rural areas will continue to decline in economic power while some major metros become real powerhouses. Here in TN, Nashville has gotten seemingly a disproportionate share of economic growth, with Knoxville and then Chattanooga also benefiting. Most other areas are struggling. It's much the same way across the country. Young people will relocate to major cities and their surrounding cities at increasing rates.

3) Health care, government, and anything that requires a physical, on-site presence seem to be the most insulated from negative trends.

Last edited by Serious Conversation; 05-14-2013 at 02:09 PM..
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:45 PM
 
Location: "Daytonnati"
4,244 posts, read 6,434,827 times
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^
wow, thank you for the in-depth post! Thanks! Good observations, too, at the end.

Quote:
3) Health care, government, and anything that requires a physical, on-site presence seem to be the most insulated from negative trends.
...I think an economist called this the "non-tradeable sector".
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Old 05-14-2013, 05:49 PM
 
Location: Metro Detroit, Michigan
18,424 posts, read 16,774,067 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GregW View Post
What happens when the AI designs the product, they 3D printers make the parts and the robots assemble and ship it in the UPS automatic trucks to the computer controlled airplanes? I wonder who is going to buy the stuff and where will they get the money?

Effectively automation has created a mechanical slave class that produces but only consumes a few parts and electricity. These mechanical robots and the computers that guide them do not buy anything. They have vastly improved productivity, profit and ROI but those benefits are sent to the investor class. These people make investments and there are not near enough of them to justify mass production for their high end consumption.

The problem is mass production requires mass markets to consume the products at a high enough price to make a profit for the investors. Our current economy has removed the money needed by the mass consumers to but the mass production. Easy credit has delayed the full effect but the credit is also a consumable that is running out of consumers.
I think we are sort of reaching a temporary ceiling. Why do I suggest this? Where is the motivation to vastly improve automation if there is not a market to mass consume? Investment in technology is only justifiable when the market warrants it. It takes millions, maybe billions collectively to do the things you suggest. With retail sales still limping along, it will take years before we will see 3D printers spitting out parts.

I wonder if these 3D printers will work to the level of today's plastic injection molds. That is, you will have the general shape of the piece, but a worker will have to add the precession details like drilled/EDM holes or milling work. I know there is some form of powderize composite that can be utilized in a 3D printer to make metal parts. From what I understand though, it is far more expensive to use this process compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Also, how do you account for the grain and quality of the metal? Many little details that have not been address, and everything else seems quite vague at this point. If 3D printers were everything people suggest they are, why isn't every manufacturer buying one? Me thinks things aren't always as great as the brochure suggest.

While technology may slow for a bit, the downside is China or other cheap labor markets may remain the world's mass producers. We have seen a lot of work come back in the last 5 years, and much of that is thanks to that automation that everyone fears. Yes, the work comes back, but it doesn't translate into a heck of a lot of jobs. Not many good paying jobs either. Most jobs handling secondary work pay between minimum wage and 12 something an hour. The upside? There are still good jobs around in manufacturing, but not many folks lining up to learn them.
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Old 05-15-2013, 05:19 AM
 
Location: Londonderry, NH
41,478 posts, read 54,519,867 times
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Thank you for your comments.

I was extrapolating to a possible future as 3D printing and other mass production techniques evolve to higher quality and lower cost. As you mentioned who is going to invest if the products cannot be mass marketed.

Your comment about some manufacturing jobs will still be around like steel and foundry workers. Those industries are begging for people willing to work in hot, noisy, physically exhausting and very dangerous conditions for not very high pay. Most kids seem to prefer stocking shelves or working a computer database. The latter pays better and is far less likely to cover you in molten iron.

I do see an increase in skilled construction employment if we ever start repairing or replacing our roads, bridges, water works and mass transit systems. As you said medical employment will also increase.
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Old 05-15-2013, 11:51 AM
 
Location: Living on the Coast in Oxnard CA
16,276 posts, read 28,950,309 times
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OK So lots of people are falling out of the middle class. Lots more are entering it. In addition many within the middle class are becoming middle class millionaires. Many people have written about this segment of the middle class. Books such as the "Millionaire Next Door", "Middle Class Millionaire", share the story of those that have joined the ranks of an increasing net worth. The segment includes those that have a net worth between $1mill and $10Mill and even better the segment is growing fast.
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Old 05-15-2013, 11:57 AM
 
Location: "Daytonnati"
4,244 posts, read 6,434,827 times
Reputation: 2996
^
True, I think the shrinking of the middle class as we knew it is happening, with people moving up in income, as you note. The point of this thread was more to share a reading list of people moving out and down, vs out and up.

Don't know the porportions of these two groups...but the bifurcation has been noted.
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:00 AM
 
29,033 posts, read 31,647,723 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dayton Sux View Post
^
True, I think the shrinking of the middle class as we knew it is happening, with people moving up in income, as you note. The point of this thread was more to share a reading list of people moving out and down, vs out and up.

Don't know the porportions of these two groups...but the bifurcation has been noted.
The elephant in the room that these "downward mobility" books usually ignore is that high out of wedlock birth rates and high divorce rates have also reduced the ranks of the middle class.

If we want a larger middle class, we have to start admitting you can't have a 41% out of wedlock birth rate and a 40% divorce rate. It just doesn't work. Even a few liberals are starting to admit this:



20 years later, it turns out Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried moms - Washington Post
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