Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gallup Puts Some Numbers to the Precariat in the U.S.

UPDATE: Today is #SeaHomeless day in Seattle, a day local media will focus on the issue of homelessness. Seattle is booming. Commercial and residential construction is visible throughout the city. Each morning on my two-mile walk into work I pass several different construction crews. Even before I leave my studio apartment I can look out my window and see the debris of  a demolished single-family home, knocked down to put up four new units,according to a mailing I received from the city planning department. (A new apartment building is going up where a parking lot currently is for the apartment building next door.)

A block from my residence is the first major construction site, a new multistory apartment building that is being erected on the footprint of recently demolished early 1960s motel-style housing that the guy who works at the Thai restaurant across the street said was probably built to house visitors to the 1962 World's Fair. This morning there were a least two flaggers and half-a-dozen carpenters visible on the street.

Next up, down the western flank of Capitol Hill and over the I-5 viaduct, is the Denny Substation Project, a massive utility upgrade, which is no doubt made necessary by the megalopolis Amazon is constructing north of Westlake Center, the next major construction site on my bipedal commute. As I believe I've mentioned before, this is the largest amount of new commercial construction that I have seen at one time in one area. It stretches for blocks.

Finally, before I arrive at the labor temple, there is extensive road work on both 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue, part of the nearly $1 billion city transportation levy passed in 2015. Heavy Caterpillar, Komatsu and John Deere machinery; concrete saws, mounds of asphalt, rock and the large hods to move it.

Then right as I enter my building I have to wind my way through a different construction crew that is putting on a new roof for the office building next door.

All of this by way of saying this is as good as it gets in terms of neoliberal capitalism right now in the United States. Yet homelessness is everywhere. Walking out of my neighborhood supermarket Monday evening I passed a guy sleeping right on the busy Broadway sidewalk, a not unusual sight (sort of a "Calcutta on the Sound" gestalt). The subliminal message to all us working stiffs was plain as day. Lose your job, and you could be next. This is life in the land of the precarious, home of the feckless.

Crosscut has done several good stories on homelessness; one, by Joe Copeland, talks about how Vienna has effectively addressed it:
Vienna certainly has advantages: The federal government covers more than half of the roughly $700 million a year spent there on “social housing,” the subsidized units that house about 60 percent of the city’s population. These dwellings have some sort of subsidy for construction or operation, a concept that’s very different from the public housing practices in this country that give a small percentage of people a break but come nowhere near making rents broadly affordable.
The city also owns a lot of land where it can develop the housing complexes (at least one Viennese architect advises never selling public land). And it uses its advantages smartly: Menking says that the practice of awarding housing projects to nonprofits encourages collaborations with architects, and quality counts in making awards. The result: housing that incorporates — and creates — the best of urban life.
As Sharon Lee of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute notes, about 100,000 households here are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, many of them forking out more than 50 percent. Seattle could benefit from 60,000 more affordable units, she says — not the 50,000 total new units, most at market rate, that the mayor hopes to see built.
Vienna’s tradition is vastly different than ours; it’s supported by people who are willing to pay taxes for housing, health care and transit. There’s no prospect at the moment that national politics in the United States will lead to the kind of federal support that would make a huge difference in housing affordability.
But Seattle’s voters have acted almost European in approving taxes for transit and housing. Although the city turns the Vienna model of mixing incomes upside down by allowing developers to fund affordable housing elsewhere rather than including it in their own buildings, it does have some experience in making use of the nonprofit sector along Austrian lines.
LIHI’s Lee points out that, beyond Seattle’s longstanding housing levy, there’s a new factor. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold managed to insert $29 million in housing bonds into the city budget for this year. Lee thinks the idea could tap into the kind of spirit that energized Seattle’s campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Jonathan Rosenblum, the author of a book about that campaign called “Beyond $15,” has been writing about the need for “a massive public housing program” in Seattle. His idea for financing it would be a local version of an income tax. That likely raises issues with the state constitution, which courts have interpreted as barring any income tax unless it were a flat rate. But where there’s a will, there may be a way to tackle at least part of the need.
It’s not something that will happen overnight. But perhaps we can take some small consolation — confidence — in knowing that Vienna’s emphasis on affordable residences dates from a housing crisis a century ago. 

I find myself reading RT more these days. This story, "Liberty lost? Americans increasingly unhappy with levels of freedom, survey says," caught my eye this morning. Gallup has found that U.S. citizens are feeling more oppressed:
America is often referred to as the "Land of the Free," but as citizens prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, their satisfaction with the country's freedom is significantly lower than it was a decade ago, according to a newly released Gallup poll.
The survey found that although 91 percent of Americans were satisfied with the freedom in their lives in 2006, only 75 percent feel the same way today.
Furthermore, while the US ranked 11th worldwide (out of 118 countries) in the 2006 Gallup poll, it came in 71st (among 139 countries) in the current poll.
"This puts the US in the bottom half of all countries measured," Gallup managing partner Jon Clifton wrote on the organization’s blog.
The US decline is unique, as such results are not happening in other wealthy democracies.
For example, Denmark, Finland, and Canada were all tied for first place in 2006, with 96 percent of their populations satisfied with their freedom. Those figures are "virtually unchanged" in the recent poll, with all three remaining in the top 11.
[The results are likely worse than stated since "freedom" is a dog whistle in the United States, a subliminal key that triggers the average conservative respondent to assert her/his superiority.] 
As for the financial situations of Americans, Clifton noted that "despite widespread reports that the US economy is improving, many Americans may not be feeling the same economic gains in their daily lives."
He noted that although household income is up since 2011, it's flat since 2007. He went on to state that workforce participation is the lowest it's been in 40 years, despite unemployment dropping below 5 percent. 
The precariat is real. My guess is that it has to do with ever-rising prices of the essentials -- housing, health care, food, education -- combined with the ever-dimming prospects of securing remunerative employment. That is the base. The superstructure is the disappearance of belief in progress. This is huge for Americans because the national mythology is predicated on progress. Better stuff to buy. Bigger house. Come to the U.S. and live your dream. It doesn't work anymore. That's why Trump was elected. People are pissed and they want to blow shit up. And Trump is delivering.

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