Riots in England: USA Next?

While chasing the treadmill belt early this a.m. I watched the killing, rioting, looting and general anarchy on the streets of London and elsewhere throughout England. Amazing — and frightening, since this follows a pattern of violence throughout Europe in recent months.

We’re not talking about another Arab Spring here. Most basically, we’re talking about a clash between the haves and the have-nots — fueled in large part by a generation of young people without jobs and without anything close to the prospect of gaining a middle-class lifestyle.

And, yeah, I know. In England — and in other parts of Europe — there are big and controversial issues about immigration, health care, taxes, social welfare and so on.

Wow. Sound like any country we know?

The USA has a host of big problems — although I don’t believe the deficit limit is the one that the Prez and Congress should be spending all their time on. Consider some others: jobs and education, for instance. And how about what the NYT describes in an opinion article by Charles Blow as “The Decade of Lost Children“:

One of the greatest casualties of the great recession may well be a decade of lost children.

According to “The State of America’s Children 2011,” a report issued last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, the impact of the recession on children’s well-being has been catastrophic.

Here is just a handful of the findings:

• The number of children living in poverty has increased by four million since 2000, and the number of children who fell into poverty between 2008 and 2009 was the largest single-year increase ever recorded.

• The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent between the 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.

• In 2009, an average of 15.6 million children received food stamps monthly, a 65 percent increase over 10 years.

• A majority of children in all racial groups and 79 percent or more of black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in the fourth, eighth or 12th grades.

• The annual cost of center-based child care for a 4-year-old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

Grim data, indeed. And there is no sign that things will get better anytime soon.

As a report issued last week by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out: “Of the 47 states with newly enacted budgets, 38 or more states are making deep, identifiable cuts in K-12 education, higher education, health care, or other key areas in their budgets for fiscal year 2012. Even as states face rising numbers of children enrolled in public schools, students enrolled in universities, and seniors eligible for services, the vast majority of states (37 of 44 states for which data are available) plan to spend less on services in 2012 than they spent in 2008 — in some cases, much less. These cuts will slow the nation’s economic recovery and undermine efforts to create jobs over the next year.”

We risk the creation of an engorged generational underclass born of a culture that has less income equality and fewer prospects for mobility than the previous generation.

It’s hard to see how we emerge from this downturn and its tumult a stronger nation if we allow vast swatches of our children to be lost. My fear is that we may not.

Here’s from a report by the Economic Policy Institute, “The class of 2011: Young workers face a dire labor market without a safety net“:

The Great Recession left a crater in the labor market that has been devastating for unemployed Americans of all ages. After more than two years of unemployment at well over 8%, we have a hole of more than 11 million jobs, with average spells of unemployment lasting nearly nine months. But the weak labor market has been particularly tough on young workers. In 2010, the unemployment rate for workers age 16-24 was 18.4%—the worst on record in the 60 years that this data has been tracked. Though the labor market has started to slowly recover, the prospects for young high school and college graduates remain grim. This briefing paper examines the dire labor market confronting young workers and concludes with ways that government policy could help. Specifically, our analyses found the following for calendar year 2010:

• The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-old workers averaged 18.4%, compared with 9.6% for U.S. workers overall.

• Young high school graduates have been hardest hit: The unemployment rate for high school graduates under age 25 who were not enrolled in school was 22.5%, compared with 9.3% for college graduates of the same age.

• Young high school graduates are not keeping pace with their older peers: Their 22.5% unemployment rate is more than double the 10.3% rate among high school graduates age 25 and older.

• While their degrees afford them more opportunities in the labor market than other young workers, young college graduates still lag far behind older college-educated workers: 9.3% of them are unemployed, more than double the 4.7% unemployment rate for college graduates age 25 and older.

• Since unemployment among young college graduates still shows no improvement, the class of 2011 will likely face the highest unemployment rate for young college graduates since the Great Recession began.

• Young blacks and Hispanics are suffering disproportionately. The unemployment rate for black high school graduates under age 25 and not enrolled in school was 31.8%, compared with 22.8% for Hispanic high school graduates and 20.3% for white high school graduates. The unemployment rate for young black college graduates was 19.0%, compared with 13.8% for young Hispanic graduates and 8.4% for young white graduates.

• Young workers as a group have not been “sheltering in school” during this downturn. School enrollment rates since the start of the Great Recession have not increased by noticeably more than the long-term trend.

I also watched part of the news conference that Prime Minister David Cameron held this morning. He was everything that Obama has not been recently: direct, forceful and in control. Here’s one statement that he made that resonated with me and I expect others:

Mr Cameron, who has previously referred to “broken Britain”, said: “There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but are frankly sick.

“It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society, people allowed to feel the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and their actions do not have consequences. Well, they do have consequences.”

Let’s hope that what is happening now on the streets in England and elsewhere never happens in the US. But without jobs for the millions of Americans who need and want one, don’t be surprised if an American President some day is making the same type of statement that Cameron made this morning.

Just sayin’.

 

 

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