By Mark Naison (October 29, 2015)
During the last thirty years, working class incomes in the US have fallen sharply. The vast majority of income gains in the US during those years have accrued to people in the top 20 percent of earners and in the last ten years to people in the top 1 percent. The once proud US industrial economy has become a shadow of itself. A starting auto worker now makes half of what his ( or her) counterpart did in 1947 and 51 percent of all jobs now pay $30,000 or less. More than 2/3 of new jobs being created are at or slightly above minimum wage and many Americans have to package together several jobs to pay rent or support a family. There are few low or moderate income communities in the country where people are not living doubled or tripled up, or renting out rooms because the expense of living space has outpaced incomes
This decline in living standards has been remarkably broad based, affecting rural areas and small towns as well as cities, and affecting whites and Asians as well as Blacks and Latinos.
But rather than creating unity among America’s diverse racial and cultural groups, this decline in living standards seems to have increased tensions.
One reason for this is the emergence of the drug war as form of police state surveillance and control for some and a jobs program and economic development strategy for others, largely though not exclusively along racial lines.
A well financed war on drugs, largely focusing on drug sales in urban Black and Latino communities, has led to a significant expansion of the nation’s police organizations, and a huge expansion of its prison population which grew from 330,000 in 1980 to over 2 million by 2000. To hold this new inmate population, state and federal government financed a wave of prison construction, much of which was concentrated in depressed, largely white, rural areas. To put it bluntly, prison construction became a job creation strategy for rural whites whose economic prospects had been shattered by factory closings and the destruction of family farming by agribusiness.
What political elites had created, through this policy initiative, was a section of the population who had a deep rooted economic interest in keeping a regular supply of inmates flowing to state and federal prisons located in their hometowns. And to a largely degree, this meant a built in interest in prosecuting the drug war in Black and Latino neighborhoods. No better example of this can be found than in New York State. The majority of the state’s 62 prisons are located in small, largely white, towns in upstate New York, while 80 percent of the inmates come from 7 neighborhoods in New York City.
Given this economic reality, it is any wonder than many low and moderate income whites feel threatened by protests against aggressive, and occasionally deadly, policing of Black and Latino communities. For them, law enforcement has been the one secure form of job creation in their communities, the most viable alternative to working at near minimum wage in Wal Mart or Autozone. When you attack police, when you raise questions about the viability of the drug war, you are not only questioning the actions of their friends and relatives, you are threatening their livelihoods and quickly eroding grasp on the American Dream
This country has always been brilliant at using race to pit the have-littles against the have-nots.
And that is what is going on now if people take the time to look at how those monopolizing the nation’s wealth have managed to get people who are ALL losing ground to see those who are of a different culture or complexion as their most dangerous enemy