At the beginning of the year, I wrote that the coming changes to our workforce and the demise of the blue social model would strike at the heart of the Black middle class. One year later, it is clear that 2011 was a calamitous year for the Black middle class, and more is to come. The New York Times reports:
Though the recession and continuing economic downturn has been devastating to the American middle class as a whole, the two and a half years since the declared end of the recession have been singularly harmful to middle-class blacks in terms of layoffs and unemployment, according to economists and recent government data. About one in five black workers have public-sector jobs, and African-American workers are one-third more likely than white ones to be employed in the public sector. […]
The central role played by government employment in black communities is hard to overstate. African-Americans in the public sector earn 25 percent more than other black workers, and the jobs have long been regarded as respectable, stable work for college graduates, allowing many to buy homes, send children to private colleges and achieve other markers of middle-class life that were otherwise closed to them.
Blacks have relied on government jobs in large numbers since at least Reconstruction, when the United States Postal Service hired freed slaves. The relationship continued through a century during which racial discrimination barred blacks from many private-sector jobs, and carried over into the 1960s when government was vastly expanded to provide more services, like bus lines to new suburbs, additional public hospitals and schools, and more. […]
A study by the Brookings Institution in 2007 found that fewer than one-third of blacks born to middle-class parents went on to earn incomes greater than their parents, compared with more than two-thirds of whites from the same income bracket. The foreclosure crisis also wiped out a large part of a generation of black homeowner
This is harrowing news, if unsurprising, and its repercussions will be felt beyond Black America. The civil rights movement and the emergence of a Black middle class has been one of America’s greatest successes of the 20th century, now Black families are seeing decades of progress unravel in the span of two years.
The racially polarized impact of budget cuts and fiscal stringency will help shape American politics, and not for the better. Arguments over taxes, spending and social programs will inevitably be embittered and impassioned by the kinds of emotions that race often brings up in American life.
Many Americans, like many Greeks and Italians, would like for continued high public employment to provide middle class livelihoods for a growing proportion of the country’s citizens. For the foreseeable future, that door seems closed. Even with tax increases, federal and state budgets are stretched to the max; public sector employment will either shrink or grow more slowly than private sector employment for some time to come. In many cases, retiring public sector workers will be collecting smaller pensions than they expected as well.
The blue model and reliance on unaffordable public sector jobs can no longer lift millions of people into the middle class. The private sector and especially small business including small community based business rooted in poor neighborhoods will have to take over. The transition to that new system will take time, and it requires a host of policies that are anathema to the supporters of the current system.
Expect division and pain. American politics is going to revolve around difficult choices, and public opinion is going to be polarized. This will be a long and difficult ride.