Sunday, 14 October 2012

makingg/unmaking of americans

Looks like today has become a day about America and the making/unmaking of Americans.Pure coincidence.

Today - for the first time since the census began counting in 1880 - more than half of American adults are single. They are tied with childless couples for the distinction of being the most predominant residential type, more numerous than nuclear families with children, multigenerational families, roommate homes or group homes. Manhattan alone is home to a million people whom Klinenberg calls "singletons," living alone in one-person dwellings. Manhattan is typical of US and European cities. The people living solo are not all old widows and widowers. For the first time in recorded US history, the majority of people that the census refers to as of "prime marriageable age" – 18 to 34 years old - are unmarried and live alone. For younger Americans this does not feel like a radical change. For older Americans it is a sea change.

Arlie Russell Hochschild writes about another new phenomenon, one predominantly experienced by what I would call the top 20 percent of the US population who can afford to pay for personal services Hochschild presents the wide variety of personal services one can buy if one has the means. She points out that this is indeed a capitalist phenomenon happening in the context of frantic work schedules and market solutions. People hire children's birthday party coordinators, and professional baby naming services. They go to baby farms in India to hire baby bearers who carry US parents' fertilized eggs to maturity.
Employed, educated, well-paid couples pay for substitutes in personal arenas of life. Turning to "professionals" who manage and fulfill their personal obligations - manage and decorate and clean their homes, birth their babies, etc. - has negative consequences that are not factored into the equation.

"Coming Apart" has received accolades from the media and the press. It shifts the problems of US capitalism on to the shoulders of its victims. Murray and his fans disregard the fact that just as African-American men in the US were denied family wages, which made it near impossible to support families, now white working class men in parallel fashion have lost the family wages that supported their families. Blue collar males now join their minority brothers and suffer low wages, mass precarity, unemployment or under-employment and the ego wounds that accompany the inability to support a family.
What has changed is not the sudden laziness or immorality of blue collar men, but US capitalism. Our economy has radically shifted since the 1970s when the majority of white families consisted of wage-earning males and dependent wives and children.

Beginning in the 1970s, computers reached a level of sophistication that allowed them to accomplish several goals favorable to large capitalist firms. Computers could and did replace millions of jobs. In just one of infinite examples, computer scanners replaced jobs in taking inventory in retail establishments. Bar codes knocked out millions of jobs.
Advanced telecommunications allowed capitalists to outsource US jobs to Third World workers from China, Bangladesh, etc., whose meager salaries and frightening working conditions were reinforced by police states.

The elephant in the room is the capitalist colossus that has replaced and outsourced decent jobs, cut wages, denied family supports and decimated the US family. Within this disaster, living solo seems preferable. Emotional life is outsourced or neglected and families come apart.

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