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The end of the middle class: Why prosperity is failing in America
Sky-high rent, second jobs, and wealth-worshipping 1% TV shows—journalist Alissa Quart explains how the American dream became a dystopia, and why it's so hard for middle-class Americans to get by.
Alissa Quart: So, we used to think of the middle class as this safe category, it was 40-hour work weeks, pensions, people worked who were teachers, professors, lawyers even. And now it’s a shakier category and that’s why I called it the “middle precariat,” as in precarious.
Now to be middle class you might not be able to have a summer holiday. You might not be able to own your home. You certainly wouldn’t have two cars. What interests me is also we have this idea of the middle class as this solid thing, and now it’s a shaky thing.
We also have this idea in the middle of the 20th century of it as a hum-drum boring thing that we wanted to escape, kind of like Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates; and now it’s everybody just wants to get into it, into the American dream of the middle class that’s now so unstable.
So one of the things that happened was unions weakened. It used to be that 30 percent of employees were in unions in the '60s, and now it’s seven percent in the private sector, and that’s a pretty huge drop-off. And at the same time you’re seeing a lot of workforce become gig-ified or turned into freelance contingent, et cetera, not stable, not with healthcare, not with the promise of security and long-term employment.
There are other reasons why the middle class has been under siege. One is the concentration of wealth. Since 1997 the income of the top one percent has grown 20 times the rest of us.
They’re an “ownership class” so they tend to own many of the corporations that are, say, creating the Uber economy, are hiring people to drive part-time or the companies that employee people at [odd] hours, which means that they can’t take care of their children, hours in the middle of the night or odd hours in the early morning, as I write about that in my book.
So that kind of wealth concentration also empowers people to have multiple addresses and to not really invest in their neighborhoods. The fact that they’re able to pay so much more than the rest of us for houses and apartments raises the rents and the cost of homeownership astronomically in fashionable cities.
Another one was 'one-percent TV', which describes people, including myself, who watch shows like Billions or Downtown Abbey or even Mad Men that sort of extol the wealthiest kind of ethically challenged wealthy people.
There’s something about one-percent television that I find pretty harmful in that we are asked to identify—and we do identify—with the very richest in this country rather than middle-class people or struggling people. And that does show our ethical problems—in Klieg lights, as it were.
And I think one of the things that one-percent television does is it makes a case for the deserving ultra-rich. Like these are people who are brilliant or talented like a show like Empire with the hip-hop mogul, they could have terrible, terrible values, “but they work hard,” and they have some kind of genius so they “deserve” to have this excess and this wealth and be drinking champagne out of flutes.
A lot of reality television shows work on the same principle. Of course, what exactly they’re doing that makes them deserving is always questionable, but the shows are making an argument that yes, they are the deserving ultra-rich.
And in fact our president, I think, is very much a product of one-percent television if we think about The Apprentice, which I think started in 2004, and that was sort of venerating this kind of empty wealth and harsh edicts to employees, “You’re fired!” and that in itself was the beginning of venerating that wealth without any criticism on reality television.
So my book is very much about a divided society where we’re just not in touch with one another. And one of the drivers of that is something I don’t really write about but I work on in the organization I run called The Economic Hardship Reporting Project and that’s spatial inequality, which is that people in cities and in rural areas and all kinds of places are very divided from each other by class, that it’s very stratified, and so you’re very unlikely now to run into people from different walks of life in big cities. You’re far less likely than you were in the past.
I’m optimistic in certain ways because I’ve started having conversations with people, partially around the book about self-blame, about them saying to themselves “what’s wrong with me” and feeling stigmatized.
And I feel like if this book achieves anything or these conversations achieve anything it’s de-shaming people scrambling to stay in the middle class, say “it’s not your fault; this is happening to other people.”
The job numbers may look like they’re up but first of all they often speak to how many jobs people are having, multiple jobs, which is not a great state of affairs for a lot of people. People now have more jobs. Each person has more jobs than they did in 2016 like individuals; it’s up by two percent or something like that so it’s substantial.
You can be looking at these job announcements and you could be thinking what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I figure it out? Why can’t I get that second or third gig? But the point is, why should we have to have all the side hustles? Why should we have to have second acts then we’re 42?
And so I’m optimistic that the conversations people could have can start to bring about self-awareness, solidarity, a better sense of themselves.
And I’ve already heard from people saying “I’ve read your book and it said ‘no stigma,’ and I told my husband when he couldn’t get his second assignment as a freelancer—his second job, not his first job—‘no stigma.’” And to me that could be just, at least, instead of a gloomy revolution, which as I write, kind of an emotional mini revolution where people talk more honestly about their situation.
'Middle class' doesn't mean what it used to. Owning a home, two cars, and having a summer vacation to look forward to is a dream that's no longer possible for a growing percentage of American families. So what's changed? That safe and stable class has become shaky as unions collapsed, the gig economy surged, and wealth concentrated in the hands of the top 1%, the knock-on effects of which include sky-high housing prices, people working second jobs, and a cultural shift marked by 'one-percent' TV shows (and presidents). Alissa Quart, executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, explains how the American dream became a dystopia, and why it's so hard for middle-class Americans to get by. Alissa Quart is the author of Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.