Downton Abby

Indeed as the Yeomanry have struggled, the lower parts of the economic spectrum have expanded. In the five years following the Great Recession, the percentage of people living in poverty rose to 15 percent, the highest level in 20 years, although it was significantly higher in 1960. Equally troubling, the ability of less- skilled workers to break into high- wage work has slowed, trapping many in a kind of permanent status as working poor. Increasingly these workers are older and better educated than low- wage workers in the past. Some 43 percent of non- college- educated whites now complain they are downwardly mobile.

Particularly hard hit are many minorities, notably African Americans and Latinos, whose income has also dropped more than most and whose unemployment has remained stubbornly higher. Despite the election of the nation’s first African American president, in itself a considerable achievement, the gap between Anglo incomes on the one side and those of blacks and Hispanics has doubled since the recession. The black unemployment rate remains more than double the white jobless rate and reaches 40 percent among youths.

Sadly, the vast majority of progressives generally offer little that would allow for greater upward mobility, relying instead largely on redistribution as the answer to social ills. Progressive theorists often write off the industries that have long driven private- sector middle- class incomes, in part for environmental reasons. They also, sometimes for the same reasons, denigrate any potential rise in typically better paying blue- collar jobs in such fields as energy, manufacturing, construction, or logistics. Since the 1970s, concerns about environmental constraints, noted Christopher Lasch, undermined the notion for the rising “new class” that their definition of the “good life” could be “made universally available.” Thus ends the romance between upward mobility and the progressive idea. Rather than be helped in the new economic order, the once independent Yeoman class is expected to accept its new role as home care providers, hairdressers, dog walkers, and toenail painters for the “innovative class.” Walter Russell Mead aptly describes this perspective as a “ Downton Abbey vision of the American future.”

from The New Class Conflict by Joel Kotkin

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