Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Non-Racist Poverty Facts Ryan Got Wrong

Yes, of course, anybody who dog-whistles "urban men" and the rest of the culture of poverty bullshit is a racist, Paul Ryan included.

But there's a bigger failure in the inability of somebody with ambitions to national leadership to even begin to comprehend what being poor in America is like.

Martin Longman just nails it:

First, he went too far and argued that there are “generations of [black/Latino] men not even thinking about working.” This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how ghetto economics work. In 2004, I was a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote working out of an office in predominantly black North Philadelphia. My job was to hire, train, and deploy (mainly) young adults from that blighted and crime-ridden community to do voter registration and Get Out the Vote drives in suburban Montgomery County. When I put an advertisement in the paper, I was completely deluged with people looking for work. My challenge was to try to find the people who would stick with it and succeed, but I had to turn most applicants away. The hunger for work was overwhelming.

I discovered over time that nearly everyone had a way of making money, despite the fact that they were officially unemployed. I learned about a shadow economy that encompassed more than a mere black market. There were the legitimate under-the-table jobs that aren’t accounted for in government statistics and are taken on day-to-day: unloading trucks, working as a construction laborer. There were the semi-legitimate jobs: using your car as an unlicensed taxi. There were the hustles: making DVD’s of movies with a camcorder, selling fake auto-tags for inspection and registration. There were other non-violent criminal enterprises, like selling stolen t-shirts and the like. Ironically, I found that the people who were the best at getting people to register to vote were the people who set their alarm clocks for early in the morning so that they could go out and work their hustle and make some money. They worked extremely hard, and when given something legitimate to do, they excelled. The reason these people came to me in droves for a low-paying job is because they craved the legitimacy of socially-approved work. Their community was absolutely starved for that kind of work.

That being said, a lot of these young adults were not prepared to enter a standard work place. I had tremendous difficulty getting them to provide all the documentation that you need to get a legitimate job. So many of them had no Social Security card, or driver’s license, or any clue where to find their birth certificate. They also spoke a dialect ill-suited for most workplaces, and they didn’t have the computer skills that are required for a lot of entry-level jobs. But they wanted those skills and I gave out a lot of advice about how to get them. Most of all, I came to love and respect these people and their culture, and not to look down on them as shiftless layabouts or violent criminals. Of course, there are plenty of those in our ghettos, too, but they aren’t the kind to answer my job postings.

Paul Ryan has a cartoonish view of the people who live in our inner cities, in part, because he doesn’t know them. Because he doesn’t know them, he doesn’t understand what they need. He’s right that they need jobs and would benefit from more mentors, but their work ethic is just fine. They work hard. What they need is legitimate work and access to the education and job-training that is required for legitimate work.

And that gets to the second thing wrong with Ryan’s remarks. His prescriptions won’t create jobs in our ghettos. If anything, by pulling a huge amount of capital out of our ghettos, he’ll increase the poverty rate and make it harder for people to pool enough money to take a step up.

This problem of persistent intergenerational poverty in our inner cities is vexing, but alleviating it isn’t rocket science. You need a combination of more jobs for low-skilled workers and big investments in job training. Because the manufacturing base in this country is no longer very low-skilled, the job training component is more important than ever.

So, the really offensive thing about Paul Ryan’s comments isn’t so much that he said that black and Latino men in our cities don’t even think about working. The offensive thing is that he thinks that convincing them to think about working will actually get them a job.

They’re already working. Everybody’s got to eat.
 Also, Erik Loomis:
Paul Ryan, unfortunately the latest Irish-American politician to forget the roots of his people and become a right-winger, has had a very racist week. Blaming black people for inner-city conditions is another in a long history of rich people blaming the poor for their own poverty. Maybe like howthe English blamed the Irish during the potato famine as the English were forcing Ireland to grow crops for its neighbor to the east. Anyway, if you aren’t familiar with why inner-city conditions became so bad in the late 20th century, Jamelle Bouie provides an excellent run-down of America’s racist housing policy and the pernicious effects of residential segregation.

No comments: