Meritocracy? Growing Poor, Shrinking Middle Class

Let me give some context to why I’m posting all of this. 

I heard two different people talk about why some social liberals vote Republican.  The stated reason of these people is that they aspire to climb the ladder of socio-economic success, and they think Republican policies will favor the middle class and the striving business entrepreneur.  This, of course, isn’t based on the reality as the middle class has been shrinking and the government growing ever since Reagan’s administration.  The tax cuts that Republican politicians preach about mostly only favor the rich.  These middle class Republican voters may dream of becoming rich, but this American Dream of meritocracy is a fool’s dream.

I think this is similar to the reason why the poor white working class votes the way they do.  They have more in common with poor minorities and immigrants, but they see these other poor people as their enemy.  So, they vote for the Republican party with it’s policies that favor the rich.  Democratic policies, on the other hand, tend to be more beneficial to the poor which is why the minorities and immigrants vote Democrat. 

A difference with the poor white working class is that they’re not as poor as many minorities and immigrants.  Looking down on the even poorer gives them a sense of superiority and this breeds a lot of racial hatred.  It’s no accident that the conservative movement has promoted the superiority of “white culture” for decades and many conservatives still openly promote it without any sense of shame.

The middle class is shrinking even as more people are trying to identify themselves as middle class.  The conservative movment has preyed upon the class wars and mixed it with the culture wars.  This “middle class” perceives themselves as hard working real Americans.  Conservative politicians and pundits tell this “middle class” that their meritocratic aspirations are threatened by the socialism of the liberal elites and the moral depravity of poor minorities.  Meanwhile, the true wealthy elite (with it’s corporatism and military-industrial complex) increasingly takes over our country… wrapping itself in the American flag.

‘No Labor Market Recession For America’s Affluent,’ Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest: STUDY
By Ryan McCarthy

Though the national unemployment rate dipped slightly in January to 9.7 percent, a new study suggests that not only have low-income workers been the hardest hit by the jobs crisis — but, shockingly, there has been “no labor market recession for America’s affluent.”

The study from Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada and Sheila Palma at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies suggests that the unemployment problem is largely a problem for low-wage workers (hat tip to the Curious Capitalist).

Our Polarized Society
With no middle ground, we are always on opposing sides.
By Ken Eisold, PhD

Here is where real, underlying social issues come into play, the second reason for our increasing polarization. The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing. This is reflected in one way by the growing disparity between workers salaries and the lavish compensation packages of top executives, but more generally in the increasing erosion and fragmentation of the middle class. As a result, two increasingly distinct and identifiable interest groups are emerging.

This is not simply the rich versus the poor, of course, those who have and those who don’t. If that were so, the rich would not stand much of chance. It is a matter of identification and aspiration, those who do not want their opportunities diluted by taxes to provide social safety nets for the poor, those who emphasize the importance of sacrifice and discipline in getting ahead, who are convinced they will succeed and are motivated by the achievements of others, the stories of hyper-successful geeks and those who have worked their way up the ranks.

On the other hand, there are those at the margins of our national prosperity who tend to be left out, those sinking in status, and those troubled by our unequal access to security and protection against suffering. Many also don’t like the picture that is emerging and want a more equal society, but they, too, increasingly have no choice but to side with the underdogs.

Lulled by the celebritariat
By Toby Young

Michael disapproved of meritocracy because he saw it as a way of legitimising inequality. After all, if everyone starts out on a level playing field, then the resulting allocation of rewards—however unequal—seems fair. Those at the very pinnacle of our society might not inherit their privileged position, as their forebears had done, but its pyramid-like shape would be preserved. Indeed, once this hierarchical structure became legitimised, as it would in a meritocratic society, it was likely that power and wealth would become concentrated in even fewer hands.  […]  Analysts of the broader sweep of social mobility are divided on how much it has slowed down (see David Goodhart’s previous article), but there is some consensus that there has been a falling off since the time my father wrote Meritocracy.

[…]  Writing in the 1960s, the sociologist WG Runciman, author of Relative Deprivation and Social Justice, argued that ordinary people tolerate high levels of inequality because they don’t compare themselves with those at the top, but with people like themselves. By that measure, they are far better off than they were 50 years ago, even if their incomes have grown by a smaller percentage than the top earners.

However, this argument doesn’t seem plausible any longer. Mark Pearson, the head of the OECD’s social policy division, has identified something he calls the “Hello! magazine effect” whereby people now compare themselves with the most successful members of society, thereby increasing their insecurity and sense of deprivation. This appears to be tied up with the decline of deference. A person’s social background may still affect their life chances, but it no longer plays such an important role in determining their attitudes and aspirations, particularly towards those higher up—and lower down—the food chain

[…]  As Ferdinand Mount notes in Mind the Gap: “The old class markers have become taboo… The manners of classlessness have become de rigueur.” To put it another way: a profound increase in economic inequality has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in social and cultural equality. We can see this most clearly in changing attitudes to popular culture. It is a cliché to point out that the distinction between high and low culture has all but disappeared in the past 25 years or so. In this free-for-all it is high culture that has been the loser, with most educated people under 45 embracing popular culture almost exclusively.  […]  The rich and the poor no longer live in two nations, at least not socially. Economic divisions may be more pronounced than ever, but we support the same football teams, watch the same television programmes, go to the same movies. Mass culture is for everyone, not just the masses.

[…]  If this is the case, I believe it is largely due to the emergence of a new class that my father didn’t anticipate and which, for want of a better word, I shall call the “celebritariat.” […] the premier league footballers and their wives, pop stars, movie stars, soap stars and the like.  […]  If the celebritariat really does play a role in legitimising economic inequality, it is also because ordinary people imagine that they, too, could become members. A YouGov poll of nearly 800 16-19-year-olds conducted on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council in 2006 revealed that 11 per cent said they were “waiting to be discovered.”

Some commentators believe that the preponderance of reality shows and their casts of freaks and wannabes—the lumpen celebritariat—have devalued the whole notion of stardom. Yet the YouGov survey discovered that appearing on a reality television programme was a popular career option among teenagers, and another poll found 26 per cent of 16 to 19 year olds believe it is easy to secure a career in sports, entertainment or the media. If the existence of the celebrity class does play a role in securing people’s consent to our winner-takes-all society, then the fact that the entry requirements are so low helps this process along. If people believe there is a genuine chance they might be catapulted to the top, they’re more likely to endorse a system in which success is so highly rewarded. To paraphrase the advertising slogan for the National Lottery, it could be them. As with the lottery, people may know that the actual chances of winning are low but the selection mechanism itself is fair—a level playing field. After that, their “specialness” will take care of the rest.

4 thoughts on “Meritocracy? Growing Poor, Shrinking Middle Class

  1. Dude, I’ve been poor my whole life, I identify with immigrants and minorities AND I GET ALONG WITH THEM MUCH BETTER TOO. I don’t vote Republican nor have fantasies about becoming rich-I’m not trying to be a business marketing manager, the feild I’m going into isn’t gonna make me anything because it’s the work itself that is interesting enough if the pay is average. I’ve been screwed out of any finacial opportunities so many times by MIDDLE CLASS WHITE KIDS not immigrants or minorities, that making LOTS OF MONEY CAN’T BE MY MOTIVATING FACTOR BECAUSE IT AINT GONNA HAPPEN.

    Middle class kids(parents have 30k or higher-i grew up on 8k a year between two people) who most times are also white, HAVE BEEN MY WORST ENEMIES-with no provocation of my own. The most dirtbag, scheming bastards I’ve ever had the mispleasure of being around.

    Mommy and daddy grew up with their middle class parents who helped put them through college and gained social connections and acceptance along the way because they had the time to do so. Their middle class kids then were afforded MANY opportunities poorer people like myself would have to die for in Iraq just to MAYBE GET after 4 years of service-maybe and not with a bad economy. Food clothing shelter handed to them and a college education with the only “sacrifice” they have to make being they don’t f### around too much and do their work with a GRANTED END RESULT OF GETTING SOMEWHERE WITH IT OTHER THAN THE GUTTER, not an ambiguous gamble of limited resources and sub standard credentials from the breaks in eduation poorer students like myself have during the developemental parts that supercede grades with a lack of basic needs beyond their control.

    The middle class kid gets the inhertited merit to get the job at age 18 with little or no experience, that helps get them through college by 25. The poorer, immigrant (not the upper middle class stuck up “i’m cool cause i’m foreign immigrant” immigrant) or person of a minority household-doesn’t get shit but shit on by the lazy arrogant entitled middle class kids who attack the poor kids character so they can’t get any job other than one where they don’t have a schedule, pay, or cooperation with management, that the middle class white kid had-and doesn’t appreciate. They then can’t come close to the MIDDLE CLASS NON-MINORITY kid’s resume because they were too busy trying to pay for college and work to support themselves while getting nowhere with either job or school because of the lack of INHERITED MERIT the middle class kid was born into. REGARDLESS OF THEIR WORK ETHIC-in fact if the poorer kid has good work ethic or even exceptional work ethic-THEY BECOME A TARGET OF THE MIDDLE CLASS WHITE KIDS AT WORK OR ELSWHERE TO DISCREDIT IN ORDER TO GET THEM LET GO FROM THEIR JOB BEFORE THEY ARE FULL TIME!

    They are allowed F### ups and the poor kid or minority has it re-enforced that GOOD WORK ETHIC IS GOING TO DRAW ATTENTION AND GET THEM FIRED, because the non-minority shitbags are affraid the poorer kid will make them look bad. The F### ups are tolerated from the middle class white kids because OF THE MERITOCRACY YOU SPEAK OF, by the SOCIAL contacts their parents or friends made to get them the foot in the door. The minority-no matter the race if poor-constantly has to choose between a dead end job that doesn’t want them to go to college and college. Leading to shit grades and bad references at work if they prioritise school work.


    Middle class white kids have avenged on me to the point of inciting gang violence towards me over lies they spread to sit back and watch us kill eachother-on the real, no bullshit.

    Your view is the problem with gaining the social awareness needed to mitigate this problem.

    • I think we’re having an issue of miscommunication. I was speaking about Pew data I’d seen relating to two specific demographics, but I apparently wasn’t being clear enough in my describing this. I should’ve linked to the data which I’ve done in some other posts. Here is the link:

      According to that data, I was primarily focusing on the two demogrpahic groups labelled as Disaffecteds and Disadvantaged Democrats. But I was generalizing based on the data. According to the Pew data, the poor minorities and immigrants tend to vote Democrat and yet there is a demographic of mostly white working class poor who partially aligns itself with Republicans (when they vote). I was trying to explain why the data shows this.

      Still, this is just looking at broad patterns within the overall population. It doesn’t necessarily apply to any given person. I wasn’t saying all poor white people hate all poor minorities and immigrants.

      If you want to discuss the specifics of the data, I’d be willing to do so. I don’t know that we actually disagree. You certainly didn’t say anything that contradicts my own understanding.

    • In case you’re interested, I’ll offer you my own personal background.

      My mom is from a working class family. My dad was raised as the son of a minister in a small town. Both were basically poor as kids, but not poverty-stricken. They both went to college. My dad got an engineering degree and became a manager in a factory. Later on he went back to school and became a professor of business management. My mom became a speech pathologist working in public schools.

      So, I was raised middle class more or less, but we were a bit poor when my dad went back to school. I always went to public schools. When I lived in South Carolina, I went to a public school that was half minorities (including kids from the projects) and my best friend was a working class redneck. I dated a poor working class girl when I lived in North Carolina after high school.

      I dropped out of college partly because of depression. I’ve always had working class jobs. I moved back to a town I lived at as a child which happens to be a middle class town, but which is surrounded by rural farm country. Over the years, I’ve worked with plenty of people from working class backgrounds and I’ve worked with plenty of minorities. Most of my close friends have working class jobs (one is a bread baker and the other a bus driver).

      I’m not judging anyone. I don’t care if someone is rich or poor. I don’t care what is someone’s ethnicity or skin color.

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