Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 1: 99% on the Bus

NaBloPoMo, here we go.

David Brooks wrote a NYTimes Op-Ed today about "Blue Inequality" and "Red Inequality", and the need to address the Red Inequality by closing the education gap in those states. As always, Paul Krugman wrote a beautifully articulate response, in parallel with a slightly more caustic reaction from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Living in a "Blue Inequality" city, David Brooks made sense to me in the first few paragraphs. Yes, I do see entire shopping centers devoted to luxury handbags, $200 jeans, $5000 works of art. Yes, I can see firsthand the 1% in shiny new Bentleys driving by the 99% riding the bus (me included).

But I started to lose him when he shifted to the "Red Inequality" states and how we needed to invest in education to close the income gap between the college-graduate and non-college graduates. But aren't the college-graduates in those states still in the 99%? So we'll let the 1% continue to hoard an inordinate amount of income share while the rest of us continue to re-allocate what's left?

I thought we were past the whole, "we can't just be arguing how to divide up the slice of pie, we need a bigger slice!" mantra that I heard in college 15 years ago.

I started riding the bus to and from work a little over a year ago after experiencing so much frustration at driving home, as sometimes it took me over 75 minutes to travel 11 miles (yes, I've taken many permutations of side streets and honestly, it doesn't make much of a difference).

One bus route I take goes through low-income neighborhoods (mine included), and the other goes right by a community college. So I see lots of working class people, mostly people of color, and young students, again mostly people of color.

I'm totally generalizing because there could be others like me who are taking the bus by choice and not out of lack of options, but I daresay the busriders are representative of the 99%. Again I could be totally wrong here but I don't think these people participate in the OWS movement (me included). But shouldn't these busriders and workers and students be the very people protesting?

Why can't we have reliable bus service? Sometimes there's a bus or two missing from the timetable and it takes me 2.5 hours to get home instead of 1.5. It's fine for me but what about the others on the bus who had to get to work on time or get docked pay? Or had to pick up their children from childcare or get fined? Or had to get home, cook dinner, have their kids work on homework, and do other chores? How do they do it all?

And is increasing the educational levels of these people going to improve their lot overall? Are they going to get a share of the wealth that the 1% enjoys? I'm going out on a limb here but I DON'T THINK SO. Education is important but if we can't even secure affordable housing, healthcare, healthy food supplies, and stable jobs, then it's hard to move on past living day-by-day, dollar-by-dollar.

Paul Krugman, as always, is right that we are beyond talking about the graduate- and non-graduate gap, and what we really need to recognize is that we live in an oligarchy. I'm not as hopeful as some that the OWS movement is our answer but at least the message is getting out there. And it's making me think and want to study more, so I hope it's doing the same for others, too.

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