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America's tenth decile, the "sitting around guys."

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Bob Hebert's column in this Tuesday's New York Times, "The Worst of the Pain," pulled the long string of that dà jà vu service bell we all have in our individual memories; you know: Where have I read this -- or something along the same lines -- before?

Hebert's column spoke directly to a problem that has been, and continues to be, one we have either intentionally or unintentionally ignored: The peril to the core of our civil society that this Great Recession has created; a combined total un- and underemployment in Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies lowest decile, those households with annual incomes less than $12,499, of 51.4 percent! (A "tile" or "cile" is a population division under a bell curve. For example, the "normal" bell curve is typically divided into five groups, or quintiles. A bell curve with ten such division is called a decile.)

The unemployment rate within this decile is 30.8 percent. The underemployment rate is 20.6 percent. Underemployment is quite as vicious as unemployment. It includes those who are working part-time, when they'd much prefer/need full-time, but cannot get it, are in jobs they are overqualified for, or have given up looking for work because there simply do not exist a sufficient number of jobs they may be qualified for at rates of pay that warrant continued looking.

Before any of us holier-than-thou jump down the throats of those who have given up the chase on the presumption that "any job is better than none," let me introduce the idea that a very real Fortune 500 business decision is being made by those who have given up. For example, if a single mother has no dependable relatives with whom she can leave a preschool child, while the mother is at work, she will have to find and pay for child care. Then arises the business expense of transportation; getting her child(ren) to the day care facility, and then herself to and from the place of employment. One way or another, those compose expenses that must be significantly lower than the net income (gross wages less all taxes and deductions from pay) derived through
the employment. Regardless how any of the rest of us might want to feel, it would be an utterly foolish business proposition for that mother to take a job that did not meet those minimum criteria, and were any CEO to engage a similar business opportunity decision similarly, he or she would be rightfully fired.

I said that underemployment is exactly as vicious as unemployment because it attacks the individual's sense of dignity. Before long, an "I hate this (expletive deleted) job" will, like acid, eat at the soul, having a seriously detrimental impact on that person's job performance and all his or her social relationships. And it's that psychological/emotional state that the dà jà vu service bell rang.

I'm going to make a statement -- nothing that is economically substantial (read as industrial) has historically taken place in the suburbs -- that has at least one, perhaps two exceptions.

Everything that has been economically productive, in other words, value-wealth creating, has taken place in the major, highly urbanized, cities in America. The financial service sector(s) do not add value-wealth to anything. Value-wealth takes raw material, or semi-finished products of the manufacturing process, and in the first or successive stages of the manufacturing process transforms it into something that can be sold to others who demand a finished product. Steel mills, factories, assembly plants are prime examples. The financial sector just moves money from one pocket to another. Neither value nor wealth are created or added.

Two demographics typify the urban community; a large population, and that that population includes a significant aggregated community of those who are truly at the bottom of the economic ladder. While not in every major urban core in the country, many include housing projects, housing for those who, in the absence of such projects, would be at risk of homelessness. Even if a core does not include projects, it does include block sections of housing that is old and often in serious disrepair; broken windows, windows boarded over with plywood, peeling-badly chipping exterior paint, dilapidated roofs and interiors, etc.

One exception is Silicon Valley. Thirty-one years of living there and being intimately informed of what composes it enables me to make the assertion. Silicon Valley is just one huge suburb that spans several cities, not a one of which has an urban core, as described above. No one lives in a project or in poorer housing in Santa Clara (Intel), Cupertino (Apple), Mountain View (Google), or Palo Alto (Hewlett-Packard) because there do not exist in those communities either projects or poorer housing. Another exception may be Dearborn, Michigan, the home of Ford Motor Company, and the site of what yet remains the world's largest manufacturing-assembly plant; the sprawling Ford Rouge. As with Silicon Valley, Dearborn has neither projects nor seriously dilapidated housing. It may in fact be America's only industrialized suburb.

Those are, however, as I said, exceptions. Which gets me back to Bob Hebert's article and that dà jà vu thing.

Whether one is dealing with a 5-part quintile or a 10-part decile, as every division is equal in the number of those within it to the number of those within every other division, there are by definition a lot of folks in that farthest left tail; 10 percent of the entire US population.


Comcast is currently trying to buy NBC from General Electric. In last Tuesday's (February 2) Senate Judiciary hearing that was exploring the merger's possible anti-trust and anti-consumer ramifications, Comcast Chairman and CEO, Brian Roberts, testified that the company was investing something like $100 million to develop cyber-optic cable that would expand that which is now available exponentially. Mr. Roberts was asked how it would help. He very honestly replied, "I'm not sure. But having that greater bandwidth capability is where the communications industry is heading." It was an example of a very sophisticated business model decision that weighed costs with benefits in an environment without perfect knowledge.

Without knowing it, that is the gut-level cost-benefit decision every young, urban core, gang-banger made, as do all prospective members to the gang. While a parent or grandparent might try to dissuade the kid from gang membership, all too often the gang and its apparent emotional-psychological and economic immediate benefits are what the kid sees about him or her every day; the supposed respect and money that simply will not accrue by flipping burgers. As to college, he likely doesn't know of anyone from the hood who has been to one, and if they have, he's unaware of any benefits that made their lengthy and costly arduous trek worthwhile, at least not in his eyes.


It was a long ago Tom Friedman piece that contained the phrase "the sitting around guys" that was the dà jà vu service bell I referred to above. I did a boolean Google search linking the phrase with the author, and finally found it in a "7th Annual Governor's Lecture in the Humanities" address he'd given in January, 2003 in Nebraska. (click here ) Friedman had either used the address as the kernel of a New York Times op-ed, or had used an earlier op-ed as the springboard for the lecture. No matter, he was focusing on the social circumstances of the mid-East, our long-standing attitudes toward the region, and how both were consequent to al Qaeda's September 11 attack on this country.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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