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The White Squeeze

Racism is America’s great shame.  It’s embedded in the nation’s very founding, with the Constitution establishing the value of a slave at 3/5th a white male citizen.  It’s one of the defining, if unspoken, principles of the Republican Party and, a century-and-a-half after the Civil War, it still finds resonance among a significant segment of the white electorate.

Conservative politicians love playing the anti-race “race card.”  It’s the practice of accusing someone, most often Pres. Barack Obama or another African-American figure, of using race as a factor in an analysis of a critical current event.  They claim that such statements invoke prejudice, violating the spirit of civil political discourse.

In April, Playboy magazine ran an interview with former Vice Pres. Dick Cheney who lambasted the president and then-Attorney General Eric Holder for invoking race in discussing the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  “I think they’re playing the race card, in my view,” the war criminal ranted.  “Certainly we haven’t given up — nor should we give up — the right to criticize an administration and public officials.”  In May, a similar criticism was raised against First Lady Michelle Obama regarding comments she made at the opening of the new Whitney Museum in New York’s West Village.  She noted, as a person of color growing up in Chicago, museums were not places “for someone who looks like me.”

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Republican politicians have followed what Pres. Richard Nixon’s advisor, Patrick Buchanan, called the “Southern strategy.”  It was a bargain they struck with many white Americans to protect traditional “white skin privilege” through the ballet.  It’s worked for decades and will likely be a key part in the Republican’s 2016 campaign playbook.

Playing the anti-race race card permits Republican politicians – and voters! – to avoid confronting the deeper social issues taking their toll on the lives of a growing number of ordinary white Americans.  The race-card gambit is a great distraction, especially for white poor, working- and middle-class women and men being squeezed by the restructuring of the U.S. economy now underway.  The restructuring is being engineered by the nearly all-white 1 percent, America’s ruling class.  People of color, be they African-American, Hispanic or Asian, along with a growing segment of the white majority, are suffering.  The question remains: Why are they all not aligned in common struggle?

What used to be called “class” has been rebranded “inequality” and just might be the issue that, finally, unites the vast majority of Americans – white, black and everyone else — in a campaign to redistribute social wealth.

* * *

According the Census Bureau, there were 313 million Americans in 2012.  “Non-Hispanic whites” made up 63 percent of the U.S. population; 37 percent of the population (116 million people) were nonwhite people.  The non-white sector consists of: Hispanics, 17 percent; African-Americans, 12.3 percent; Asians, 5 percent; and multiracial Americans, 2.4 percent.  Perhaps more telling, the white majority is projected to be eclipsed in 2043.

Too often overlooked by the media, pundits and pols alike is that American whites are being squeezed.  Here are four ways.

Wealth

The UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society released a study, “Underwater America: How the So-Called Housing ‘Recovery’ is Bypassing Many American Communities,” was more pessimistic as to wealth distribution in America.  It found that, between 2005 and 2009, wealth declined by 16 percent among whites compared to 53 percent for African Americans and 66 percent among Hispanics.

This confirms a 2014 study from the Urban Institute, Impact of the Great Recession and Beyond, detailing the recession’s impact with regard to personal or family wealth by race.  Not surprising, African-American and Hispanic families took it on the chin, loosing 47.6 percent and 44.3 percent of their wealth, respectively.

The Hass report found that the principle cause of this decline was the evisceration of the value of home ownership.  Looking at whites, wealth fell by more then a quarter (26.2%), nearly 3/5ths (58%) due to the decline in the value of their homes.  American families lost, on average, $122,500 in accumulated wealth (e.g., home value, pensions) and white families lost an estimated $110,381; retirement wealth among whites fell by 18 percent.

Income & Poverty 

According to Sentier Research, real (inflation-adjusted) median household annual income in 2014 was down 3.1 percent since the economic recovery began in June 2009.  It is nearly 5 percent (4.8%) below the level at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007.

In 2013, there were 97.8 million households in the U.S. and the medium annual income was $51,939.  For all “white” households, the medium was $55,257 and, for “white, not Hispanic” households, it was $58,270.

The slow U.S. economic recovery is gradually reducing the poverty rate since the Great Recession of 2007-09.  In 2013, 45.3 million Americans (14.5%) were living in poverty.  The highest concentration of poverty was found in the South where an estimated 18.9 million people (16.1 percent) lived in poverty.  (The 2012 poverty level of 46.5 million people was the greatest number since the Bureau began conducting such studies more then a half-century ago.)

In 2013, nearly 30 million “whites” lived in poverty; the Census Bureau noted that the poverty for “white, not Hispanics” was at 18.8 million people.  It found the white poverty rate for 2007–2011 was at 11.6 percent.  More telling, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates, using Census data, that 23 states had a poverty rate of 10 percent or greater; the highest rates of white poverty were in Kentucky (18%) and West Virginia (17%).

The poverty rates among female-headed households, along with the elderly and the disabled, both white and non-white, is greater then two-adult families.  According to the Census, there were 58.9 million “white” (and 51.9 million Non-Hispanic) family households in 2011 and, of these 9.2 million were headed by “white” (and 7.2 million Non-Hispanic) women.  Often overlooked, there were 4.1 million black female-headed family households.

 

Bankruptcy

Given the structure of wealth in America, whites account for far more cases of bankruptcy and foreclose than people of color.  One estimate finds that whites account for over 70 percent of all bankruptcy filings from year to year, while African-Americans and Hispanics account for around 20 percent of filings.  Since the Great Recession, bankruptcy filing-rates among African-Americans’ bankruptcy decreased significantly while those among Asians and Hispanics rose.

However, about 9 million U.S. families lost their homes during the housing crisis.  A revealing report from the Center of Responsible Lending, “Foreclosures by Race and Ethnicity: The Demographics of a Crisis,” points out, “the majority (an estimated 56%) of families who lost homes were non-Hispanic and white.”  It adds a more somber note, “but African-American and Latino families were disproportionately affected relative to their share of mortgage originations.”

Going further, the study notes, “Non-Hispanic whites represent the majority of at-risk borrower” and that nearly 15 percent (14.8%) were “at imminent risk of foreclosure” (this is 2/3rds the rate compared to blacks and Hispanics).

 

Education

Between 1990 and 2013, the percentage of white people 25- to 29-year-olds who had received at least a high school diploma or its equivalent increased to 94 from 90 percent.  More revealing, during that period the gap between white, black and Hispanic high-school grads narrowed considerable.  For African-Americans, it declined to 4 from 8 percent and for Hispanics it fell to 18 form 32 percent.

However, a more disturbing picture of the long-term crisis facing white Americans comes by drilling down into the white formal graduation rates at the state level.  A revealing study, “State High School Graduation Rates By Race, Ethnicity,” drawing upon U.S. Department of Education data from the 2011-12 period, finds the formal white graduation rate was 86 percent.  Most disturbing, the white students in 20 states fell below the nationwide level, of these 10 states fell below 80 percent: Ohio (71%), Nevada (72%), Alaska (76%), New Mexico (77%), South Carolina (78%), Georgia (78%), Hawaii (79%), Florida (80%), West Virginia (80%) and Washington (80%).

* * *

The Southern strategy has, for nearly a half-century, successfully divided the American people along race lines.  It’s a mean-spirited form of distraction, a sentiment that took root in the country four centuries ago when the first black slaves were auctioned off as private property.  In the U.S., race is the great divide.

The Southern strategy is being slowly eroded, but needs to be rebuked once and for all.  White America is facing an historical crisis.  White Americans are being, simultaneously, eclipsed and squeezed; their relative proportion of the country’s population is shrinking while the nation’s economy – both domestically and globally – is being restructured.  African-Americans, Hispanic, single-women headed households, the elderly and returning vets were squeezed by the fiscal crisis of 2007-09 and its sluggish recovery.  As the global economic restructuring continues, whites will be increasingly squeezed.

Will the squeeze lead to a white panic, marked by increased racial conflict?  The Republicans will likely play this card in ’16.  Will it work?; historically, its a vote getter!  The Southern strategy needs to be replaced by a campaign that unites people of color with the growing number of displaced whites.  Americans are being squeezed and they know the system is rigged.

The great historical irony is that the party of FDR, who contained the ruling class at the time of the nation’s greatest social crisis and fashioned a more equal nation, has abandoned its moral purpose.  Pres. Obama, a black Democrat, like Pres. Clinton, a good-old-boy Democrat before him, have replaced FDR, serving as errand-boys of big money.  For all their showmanship, when the globalization of capitalist power is being contested, they bark and rollover.

David Rosen is the author of the forthcoming, Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com

 

 

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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