Thursday, February 12, 2009

Woe is Me in NYC

As I casually gazed over the NYTimes homepage today, this article caught my eye. It is entitled, "You Try to Live on $500K in This Town." It outlines how difficult it will be for Wall Street banking executives to maintain their upscale lifestyles if their firms accepted federal bailout money--because it would mean their maximum salary would equal a mere $500,000. It details how much private school fees cost per year, an annual mortgage payment in the area, the fees for a nanny, taxes, living expenses, personal trainer expenses, the sum for formal gowns for charity functions. Oh, and "frozen hot chocolate" costs $8.50.

I'm sure you get the feel for the article by now.

Perhaps this quote sums up my reaction:

"Few are playing sad cellos over the fate of such folk, especially since the collapse of the institutions they run has yielded untold financial pain."

The article says, "the cold hard math can be cruel."

Yes it can, so let's look at the bigger picture. This is not to say the Times has not written articles, columns and blogs on the dramatic economic downtown. For that bigger picture, however, I give you some other numbers--numbers, that in my opinion, warrant the Times' attention more so than nanny fees and pennies for personal trainers.

Via the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Approximately 598,000 jobs were lost in January alone. Approximately 3.6 million jobs were lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. BLS estimates the current unemployment rate at 7.6%.

Think about what that means. How that affects those workers without jobs, those workers' families. Not about an $8 frozen hot chocolate.

--Cassie, WCSU's Research & Communication Assistant

Sunday, February 8, 2009

On 'Working Class' and the 2008 Election

Throughout the election, and as the economy veered into deep recession, citizens undoubtedly noticed each candidate's rhetoric turned to what's best for the "working class" and "working families." While these words certainly overlapped with "middle class" in much of the rhetoric, it's worth thinking about how the candidates pitched to the working class and also how the media covered their rhetoric about it.

For example, a Washington Post article from July 1, 2008, gave the transcript to an Obama ad, in which Howard Kurtz noted:

"The key image here is the last one: Barack Obama throwing his arm around
one of several older female workers in hairnets and aprons. The picture conveys
the message that the senator from Illinois cares about working-class folks and,
in particular, women over 50 -- a demographic he had little success with in the
primaries.The commercial, like an earlier biographical ad, is designed to
neutralize perceptions of Obama as an Ivy League elitist by playing up his
background as a Chicago community organizer. Obama did, however, work as a New
York financial consultant before that, and by his own admission he had little
success helping Chicago neighborhoods cope with plant closings."

Or, consider how the media talks about "working class folks." Here is Chris Matthews as he characterizes the working class:
"What's the Republican route to the regular Joe or Jane—the person who didn't go
to college for four years, may have ended up going to community college, maybe a
craftsperson, who's not elitist by any definition. What's the Republican
trick for getting the non-country club vote?"

Or, take this Reuters article from June 12, 2008. Here, working class is juxtaposed with trade policy. Is there a fundamental misunderstanding and/or stereotyping at work here? Does it matter?

--Working Class Student Union's Communication Team

Capital Times (Rightfully) Questions Paul Ryan

On January 30, 2008, the Capital Times wrote a scathingly justified editorial questioning and damning Paul Ryan's vote against the economic stimulus package when part of his constituency is from...Janesville.

The Capital Times wrote:
The congressman's hometown has been devastated by the closing of the General Motors plant that was the mainstay of the local economy for almost 90 years. Parts suppliers in Janesville and surrounding communities are laying off workers and shutting their doors. Main Street businesses are cutting back. On the other side of Ryan's 1st District, communities are still reeling from the closings of major employers such as the Delphis Corp. plant in Oak Creek.
What kind of representation is this? Or rather, where is Rock County's "representative?"

For the entire editorial, click here.

-Working Class Student Union's Communication Team

Asking the right questions, but perpetuating the same problem.

In late January, published an article entitled, "Are you middle class?"

They start their piece by saying:
The president-elect has all but said that 2009 will be the year of the middle class. But now that Barack Obama is about to governm rather than campaign, defining "middle class" could prove difficult--especially since there's no precise or official definition.
This is the question that WCSU commonly asks, only we explore the complexity of class a little further--by not painting that broad-sweeping brush of "middle class."

Just read Class Matters by NYTimes Corespondents. They illustrate that class is complex, economic, social, a matter of access to power. And certainly not a matter of 3 broad economic categories, of which many in America have become convinced.

We'll have to see if President Obama's "Middle Class Task Force" really works for the "middle class," or maybe, it's off the mark.

--Working Class Student Union's Communication Team

Moving Toward a Solution?

In early January, Newsday reported Sen. Charles Schumer’s proposal of a $4,000 tax credit for college tuition and fees. See the full article here.
"There's almost nothing else that could come out of the stimulus package that is as important for middle-class Long Island families who tremble at the thought of those high tuition bills," Schumer said yesterday.
The article goes on to explain the tax credit:
The proposed tax credit would allow families to deduct from their tax bills up to $4,000 per child, to a lifetime maximum of $16,000 per student. Families could claim up to three students annually, a maximum credit of $12,000 a year. The credit could be used toward tuition, books, room and board for undergraduate or graduate studies.
This compares starkly to President Obama’s plan, in which he wanted to tie a tax credit to 100 hours of public service.

In that sense, it seems Schumer’s plan beats President Obama’s. Many working class students, who will pay their way through college with jobs and loans, cannot afford—in time or money—to dedicate 100 hours of unpaid service. In fact, it could be a set back, despite the tax credit that would be attached.

Is Schumer’s plan moving toward a solution?

--Working Class Student Union's Communication Team

Friday, February 6, 2009

What the media is missing…

On Friday (February 6, 2008), the Labor Department released its monthly report of job losses. The New York Times ran an article entitled "Economy Shed 598,000 Jobs in January." Not surprisingly, the Times interviewed and cited chief economists to "shed light" on this economic situation.

“This is a horror show we’re watching,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, an economic research organization in Washington. “By every measure available — loss of employment and hours, rise of unemployment, shrinkage of the employment to population rate — this recession is steeper than any recession of the last 40 years, including the harsh recession of the early 1980s.”
The Times' "Economix" Blog followed suit with "Jobs Report: Economists React," in which they interviewed seven economists.

As demonstrated by both examples, the media relies almost entirely on the perspective of so-called "experts," who are highly educated and accomplished in the academic. Based on this one-sided representation, it may be crucial to ask ourselves who we are not asking about this "horror show." Perhaps, we should ask those who are most greatly affected: the workers without jobs; the families without income; the student, for whom the recession means they will not attend a four-year university next fall. We need to ensure that our media is not relying solely on the opinions of those who observe our lives and then tell others about them, but rather include our voices as individuals actually living through these trying times.

--Working Class Student Union's Communication Team