Unemployed

Yglesias considers this chart "the key to understanding today’s political economy":

Virtually every single member of congress, every senator, every Capitol Hill staffer, every White House advisor, every Fed governor, and every major political reporter is a college graduate. What’s more, we have a large amount of social segregation in the United Statescollege graduates tend to socialize with each other. And among college graduates, there simply isn’t an economic crisis in the United States.

Leonhardt's column today explores this some more, with his usual brilliance. Money quote:

In the deep economic slump of the mid-1970s, the average hourly pay of rank-and-file workers who make up four-fifths of the work force fell 6 percent, adjusted for inflation. In the early 1980s, the average wage fell 3 percent. Even in the mild 1990-91 recession, it fell almost 2 percent. But since this recent recession began in December 2007, real average hourly pay has risen nearly 5 percent.

I am struck by two things. The first is a question of why the Democrats are under so much electoral pressure when so many people are doing fine in this economy, indeed enjoying hefty wage increases in an era of very low inflation. Of course, I'm not arguing for selfishness, but it's odd to me empirically that so many are complaining when such a discrete and relatively small section of the country is in such economic pain. People are pretty good at ignoring the plight of others in assessing their own situation. Have the employed seen such a boost in their living standards since the 1990s?

The second thing that strikes me is the comparison with the war. Just as in the economy, a relatively small and socially segregated segment of America bears the real burden - of their loved ones facing and meeting death and injury day after day. Why do we seem more indifferent to them than to the long-term unemployed?

What allows us to compartmentalize in some areas and not in others? Or will, in fact, the popular discontent with the economy fail to materialize as profoundly as we expect in the elections ahead? And will the resistance to the wars begin to rise?

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