The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Blue Storm Batters Black America

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.

Published on November 29, 2011 5:51 pm
  • http://gregq.wordpress.com Greg Q

    With all due respect, [don't concern yourself about] them.

    The supporters and “beneficiaries” of “Affirmative Action” should be regarded as moral pariahs, for they are people who support and defend government imposed racism that is no less evil than Jim Crow. The fact that their choices are bringing them bad ends fills me with nothing but joy. They deserve it.

    Even better, they’re part of a tight group that traditionally votes Democrat anyway, which means that harming them doesn’t help the Democrats (since their votes were already in the Democrats pile, as were their friends votes).

    It’s time to go after government employees, and their unions, hard. Cut their pay, cut their pensions, and cut their ranks. Government at all levels is too big, it’s time to prune, no hack, it back. A good place to start would be to cut government size back to 1997 levels.

    people who chose to hitch their fortunes to evil deserve to get hurt. Government judging people based upon the color of their skins is evil.

  • Kenny

    It is true that “The blue model and reliance on unaffordable public sector jobs can no longer lift millions of people into the middle class.”

    But this is just a kind way of recognizing and admitting what anyone with eyes to see already knows. Much of government employment is welfare or make-work for those who can hack it in the private sector.

    Like Greg Q above, I, too, have no sympathy for government employees who are let go, be they black or white or brown.

    The government work force — especially at the state and local levels– are parasitic to the degree they are over compensated and over staffed.

    .

  • Jordan

    “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.”

    I will go out on a limb of pure speculation and say we are facing a Vietnam-style kind of division on this country. The vituperative nature of #1 and #2 comments are just a small indication.

    We are facing a complete disaster. We can’t even agree on how to cut $1.2T over the next 10 years (a mere $120B a year with current deficits of > $1T a year). How will entitlement spending be controlled?

    We are lucky that the US is considered a “safe” investment so treasury yields are low and the gov’t can continue to borrow money cheaply. But at some point — which will happen suddenly and not when expected — the demand for treasuries will slacken and yields will skyrocket. You have a distaste for the Tea Party? Wait until the bond market punishes the US. But hey, we can still print money.

    Color me melodramatic, but nothing short of liberty itself — for us and the rest of the world for which we guarantee it — is at stake.

  • Anthony

    “The retreat of government after 1980 partly reflected Reagan’s incorrect diagnosis that big government had caused the economic crises of the 1970s…from the 1980s till now, America has seen itself as a tensely divided society….Our era’s social cleavages are well known to any American: red states versus blue states; suburbs versus urban centers; rural versus urban; whites versus minorities; fundamentalist versus mainline religious denominations; conversatives versus liberals; and Sunbelt versus Snowbelt” (The Price of Civilization). WRM, decaying blue model only frames conscious divisions that are real for many Americans.

    Nevertheless, the anti-tax and anti-government narrative may have gotten its start/boost from the Civil Rights Movement – “Before Civil Rights era, federal social spending was mainly for white voters, federal support for farmers, home owners, and retirees…overwhelmingly benefitted the majority white community and was precisely designed that way.” Furthermore, The Price of Civilization argues that Sunbelt politics (Deep South and Southwest) provided electoral margin from Reagan to George H.W. Bush for majority opposition to government spending with various underlying components motivating its constituency.

    Black Americans find themselves generally employed by government as a consequence of insufficient institutional forms of social organization – i.e. legacy of non economic liberalism tied to blue model Civil Rights legislation.

    So, in the end WRM, it comes down to leadership embracing social, cultural, and economic new systemic transitions revolving around difficult choices in 21st century America (world). The question remains: is black leadership up to task post New Deal, Civil Rights, Blue Model consciousness?

  • Luke Lea

    @ WRM “The blue model and reliance on unaffordable public sector jobs can no longer lift millions of people into the middle class. ”

    It would be more accurate to say that trade and immigration, have undermined the blue model. They plus our failure to counteract to the effects of automation on wages and the distribution of income. These are policy failures, not a model failure, in my humble opinion.

  • Anthony

    Correction @4, 2nd paragraph last sentence should read: …provided electoral margin from Reagan to George W. Bush….

  • Jim Pabarue

    I am thoroughly dismayed, but not surprised, at the callousness of #1 and #2. While I understand WRM’s argument that the blue model has failed, the sentiment “..don’t worry about them” is unacceptable. “They” are Americans just like Greg Q and Kenny, and the failure to address the problems that “they” face will redound to the detriment of the United States. One of the reasons minorities found economic and social mobility through government jobs is because of the obstacles faced in the private sector. Studies have shown that private employers disproportionally reject job applicants with names that sound black, Latino, etc., so believing that the private sector is now going to become colorblind and that private employers are the salvation for middle class minority workers is like believing in the unicorn that WRM discusses in his article on the global green bubble. Private employers judging workers by the color of their skin is also evil.

    The use of government employment to boost the numbers of middle class minorities may no longer be feasible, but to simply say that supporters and beneficiaries of Affirmative action are “moral pariahs” and ignore the reality of the situation and the potential for serious social unrest is foolish.

  • Mark Buehner

    “African-Americans in the public sector earn 25 percent more than other black workers”

    So we are overpaying our government employees by at least 25%. Breaking news there.

  • O2BNAZ

    …The NYT is simply laying the ground work. To reduce or oppose the current number of government jobs is now racist.

  • Mexipat

    It is not a function of government to act as a source of employment, and tax-funded “jobs” are not truly jobs as they have a deleterious effect on the economy as a whole. Ignore this fact and watch a Greece develop. Government has certain limited responsibilities, and the citizenry will fund those necessary activities (as constitutionally mandated) without complaint. But, any and every other government position should only be grudgingly created after it has been clearly shown that a hard requirement, rather than social reengineering excuses, truly exists. ALL other personnel employed by federal, state or local bureaucracies are simply parasites. It is unfortunate for blacks that the Democrats, their party of choice, promote parasitic behavior on a grand scale rather than encourage more constructive careers.

  • S P Dudley

    The explanation that the failed Blue Model is responsible for the demise of the black middle class is half-right. This omits however the intensive pressure against individual achievement within the black community itself.

    There is a massive amount of internal messaging within “African-American” society that warns against taking jobs in the private sector or really seeking any high achievement that exists outside of arenas such as government or entertainment (including sports). Black children are not encouraged to go into business, seek out higher education degrees that are not directly related to the community, or seek any type of career that might be contradictory to the message of intra-racial harmony this community continually broadcasts. Step outside lines and you become a pariah. That’s especially true if you marry outside your race.

  • Pettifogger

    Luke Lea said, “It would be more accurate to say that trade and immigration, have undermined the blue model.”

    1. Free trade is engine of economic prosperity. To the extent we restrict trade, we increase the cost of living. People who lose their job because of free trade can retrain. The mass of people with a lower standard of living because of trade restrictions have no such route to a remedy.

    2. Immigration, really? It’s the Blues who are most likely to oppose immigration-law enforcement. And most of the volume of immigration comes from illegals. Are they taking government jobs? This would be the first I have heard that allegation.

  • Andy Freeman

    > It would be more accurate to say that trade and immigration, have undermined the blue model. They plus our failure to counteract to the effects of automation on wages and the distribution of income. These are policy failures, not a model failure, in my humble opinion.

    Immigration is part of the blue model, so if it’s a problem, that’s a model failure. Increased automation is a fact, so if it’s a problem, that’s also a model failure.

  • Yahzooman

    “federal and state budgets are stretched to the max …”.

    Hardly.

    Government at all levels are too generous.

    Federal Government spending is increasing—to a projected 25.3% of gross domestic product this year from 20.7% in 2008—while revenues are down to 14.4% of GDP from 17.5% in 2008.

    I agree with Paul Ryan, who wants to get spending in line with revenues, and lays out clearly what that aspiration entails. His liberal detractors want to get revenues in line with spending, but are coy and disingenuous about the consequences.

    It’s not about stretching budgets to the max … it’s about shrinking budgets to the max.

  • CatoRenasci

    The over-representation of blacks (and other minorities) in government employment is the result of affirmative action. When the taxpayers are no longer willing to subsidize so many free riders, they’ll have to find something productive to do. They got the benefits of preferences in the form of government jobs for decades, let them live with the consequences of the loss of those sinecures.

  • bob sykes

    “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 fact that these successes were built on government jobs means that the civil rights movement was a failure. Blacks failed to move into the private sector in sufficient numbers and failed to become economically integrated into the larger society. Any attempt to solve our economic problems by reducing government interference in the economy will destroy the black community.

  • Eric R.

    “Expect division and pain. ”

    Professor Meade, I assume that you mean, to put it bluntly, race riots.

    At this point, that will no more help the cause of African-Americans, and will likely harden white attitudes in favor of government cuts. And as always, it will be their own neighborhoods that they will be destroying. Further, it will create white flight, cause an exodus of the tax base and jobs, and cause cities suffering such riots to spiral downward until the end up like Detroit – broken beyond repair and utterly hopeless.

  • Interesting

    “About one in five black workers have public-sector jobs…”

    So about ten percent of the population gets about twenty percent of the government jobs?

    You see that ratio in TV commercials, too, for some reason.

  • apetra

    Since the 1980s, Republicans have been fighting back against ever expanding big government. The country jumped the rails from the modest overspending of the Bush era. That spending was largely justified by the Global War on Terror, and the refusal of prominent Democrats to support the war effort against the Islamic mass murderers who brought down the Towers, absent full satiation of their earmarked pork gluttony. Don’t forget, Bush had to buy their ‘patriotism’. It’s no wonder that the moderates in the Tea Party are pushing back against the every more outrageous extremism of the Democrats in this country.

  • Aidry

    The fact that 50 years later we are still referring to groups of people by their skin tone as “a community” is indicative that the civil rights movement was a failure.

  • Greg Q

    “I am thoroughly dismayed, but not surprised, at the callousness of #1 and #2. While I understand WRM’s argument that the blue model has failed, the sentiment “..don’t worry about them” is unacceptable. “They” are Americans just like Greg Q and Kenny”

    Yes, they are Americans. So are members of the KKK. I have zero care, concern, or consideration for KKK members, because I don’t like racist pigs.

    Why, then should I have any care or concern for people whose skin color is different from those KKK members, but whose attitude on the importance of skin color is the same?

    “Affirmative Action” is racism. It is evil, and the people who chose to benefit from it and / or push it are evil. Period. Dot.

    I am a long time fan of school choice, and giving poor people vouchers so they can escape the hideous inner city schools. The poor, OTOH, vote for a Democrat Party that is dominated by the Teachers Unions, and therefore eagerly sacrifices the poor’s chances for advancement to the “teachers” comfort.

    I am generally happy to help those who are trying to help themselves (so long as they’re doing it in a moral way). I see no reason at all to waste any effort on people who refuse to help themselves. Poor people voting for Democrats are willingly screwing themselves over. Don’t expect me to waste any concern on such losers.

    If you want to get ahead by building a better life for yourself by achieving and accomplishing things, I’m in your favor. If you want to live on handouts, and get ahead by political rent seeking, you’re my enemy, and I am your enemy.

    And I’m very happy to be that way.

  • Pashley1411

    I’m with BSykes above me, but let me add.

    Trying to preserve the middle class status of black Americans in the public sector joins the growing list of projects and worthy sentiments that are manifestly evil in their results.

    First, assistance is a vicious and stupid thing to do to black people. Any form of assistance towards a group points the efforts of that group towards the giver. Giving Afro-Americans jobs or promotions based on race guarantees to ruin them for other employment.

    Second, government work is inefficient, change resistant, and bureaucratic (duh). If a person is of that caliber, by all means, let them walk a mail route, read a rule book. But to consign an entire people to that work is, to repeat, evil.

    Couldn’t they have been orientated towards education, like Jews and east Asians? Many people selfless set up schools and taught black pupils in what turned out to be elite educational settings.

    Couldn’t they have been given business opportunities, like American Indians, to run motels and casinos?

    And even now, what is the point of middle class income without the effort and habits that comes with reaching that level income? Jobs, government budgets, and economies change, you must change or lose.

  • DANEgerus

    So racially preferential hiring policies have created a tax-payer subsidized Democrat voting class and we’re supposed to cry they ran out of our money?

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    It comes down once again to the issue you have talked about in the past, entitlements, specifically, retirement entitlements. Paying generous pension benefits to workers, many of whom retire earlier than counterparts in the private sector, are busting the budgets at many cities and states. The issue is not whether the taxpayer can be gouged for more but who is getting the money he’s already being gouged for. There are finite pots for governments to allocate and they can no longer afford to pay people to take 20 or 30 year vacations at 80% of their salary.

  • MDC

    I’ve been reading a number of articles lately that employers are having difficulty, even with the current levels of unemployment, finding people to hire with trade skills (e.g. welding).

    If there is some study that shows employers would rather leave a requirement empty than hire a qualified welder with a black- or latino-sounding name, I’d like to see a link, because I just don’t accept that. That might be happening (and documented) for CEO positions, but I’m skeptical that there are wide-spread, systemic blocks. And if it’s a regional reality, move. How about that?

  • http://gregq.wordpress.com Greg Q

    Wow, DANEgerus, I bow to your pithy wit.

  • Heliogabalus

    Seems to me that the widespread black attitude is based on a contradiction:

    1. Whitey is the source of all our problems;
    2. Whitey is the solution to all our problems!

    In other words, the same people who have been “holding blacks down” for centuries are now expected to…”lift them up”, apparently indefinitely. This approach makes the future of blacks forever a function of white actions and intentions. Post-Civil Rights “freedom” is illusory – they are still dependent on Whitey!

  • Joe

    Payback for decades of affirmative action and preferential treatment?

    Who wants more taxes and bigger governemnt to keep it up?