Just as they were for the Irish and Italian immigrants of the early twentieth century, government jobs have been an important ladder to the middle class for generations of Black Americans. As one of the largest and most venerable public-sector programs, the Postal Service has long been one of the largest and most effective of these ladders. With the USPS now considering massive cuts, it will likely abdicate its role as a pathway out of urban poverty for Blacks. The Chicago Tribune discusses the change:
The U.S. Postal Service‘s announcement Monday that it plans to close 252 mail processing centers and trim 28,000 jobs to fend off possible bankruptcy is part of a growing trend of shrinking government employment opportunities. For its workforce, which is disproportionately composed of African-Americans, the news means a lot more than the prospect of slower mail delivery.“People have raised their kids with these jobs and bought homes in the black community,” said Adrian Peeple, 42, of South Holland, who began her career as a letter carrier at Chicago’s Wicker Park station in 1995. “It’ll be a huge impact if they started laying off or cutting back on people who’ve been working here for quite a bit of their lives.”
This is unfortunate news for the Black community, but it is unavoidable; our mail system has become an expensive burden on our finances even as the importance of snail mail dwindles — junk mail now counts for nearly half of the USPS’s volume. Nor does the future offer much respite for the Black middle class — the Postal Service may be the first to go, but similar changes are coming to other government agencies as well as cities and states face shrinking budgets and diminishing tax bases. Government jobs — especially locally-based jobs such as police, teachers and firefighters — have long been the backbone of a Black middle class that is still underrepresented in the ranks of private-sector professionals.Via Meadia has called attention to this problem before, and we will continue to follow it. The economic changes coming to this country affect everyone, but they affect different regions, different population groups and different socio-economic levels in different ways. The Black middle class has a bigger vested interest in government and quasi-governmental jobs (quasi-governmental jobs like medical services where government payments support the demand for services provided by private sector employers) than other groups; the political struggle over the levels and conditions of government employment can’t be separated from the politics of race.Those, like Via Meadia who believe that the whole country urgently needs to reduce the size of public sector employment while making the public sector more efficient need to think through the consequences for current public employees. As a matter of political practicality as well as social harmony, it’s important to make the changes work as fairly as possible for as many people as possible.The USPS needs to shrink and perhaps disappear for the sake of the country; for the sake of the country the Black middle class like the middle class generally needs to grow.