The Other America: The New Politics of the Poor in Joe Biden’s (and Mitch McConnell’s) USA

By Liz Theoharis, a theologian, ordained minister, and anti-poverty activist. Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, she is the author of Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor. Originally published at Tom Dispatch.

In the two weeks since Election 2020, the country has oscillated between joy and anger, hope and dread in an era of polarization sharpened by the forces of racism, nativism, and hate. Still, truth be told, though the divisive tone of this moment may only be sharpening, division in the United States of America is not a new phenomenon.

Over the past days, I’ve found myself returning to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in 1967, just a year before his own assassination, gave a speech prophetically entitled “The Other America” in which he vividly described a reality that feels all too of this moment rather than that one:

“There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful… and overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits…

“But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

In Dr. King’s day, that other America was, for a time, laid bare to the nation through mass social unrest and political change, through the bold actions of the freedom fighters who won the Voting Rights Act and then just kept on fighting, as well as governmental programs like the “War on Poverty.” And yet, despite the significant gains then, for many decades since, inequality in this country has been on the rise to previously unimaginable levels, while poverty remained locked in and largely ignored.

Today, in the early winter of an uncurbed pandemic and the economic crisis that accompanies it, there are 140 million poor or low-income Americans, disproportionately people of color, but reaching into every community in this country: 24 million Blacks, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asians, two million Native peoples, and 66 million whites. More than a third of the potential electorate, in other words, has been relegated to poverty and precariousness and yet how little of the political discourse in recent elections was directed at those who were poor or one storm, fire, job loss, eviction, or healthcare crisis away from poverty and economic chaos. In the distorted mirror of public policy, those 140 million people have remained essentially invisible. As in the 1960s and other times in our history, however, the poor are no longer waiting for recognition from Washington. Instead, every indication is that they’re beginning to organize themselves, taking decisive action to alter the scales of political power.

For years, I’ve traveled this country, working to build a movement to end poverty. In a nation that has so often boasted about being the wealthiest and freest in history, I’ve regularly witnessed painful divisions caused by hunger, homelessness, sickness, degradation, and so much more. In Lowndes County, Alabama, for instance, I organized with people who lived day in, day out with raw sewage in their yards and dangerous mold in their homes. On Apache land in Oak Flats, Arizona, I stood with native leaders struggling to cope with generations of loss and plunder, most recently at the hands of a multinational copper mining company. In Gray’s Harbor, Washington, I visited millennials living in homeless encampments under constant siege by militia groups and the police. And the list, sadly, only goes on.

As the future administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris heads for the White House (no matter the recalcitrant loser still ensconced there), the rest of us must equip ourselves with both courage and caution, living as we do in a divided nation, in — to be exact — two very different Americas. Keep in mind that these are not the insulated, readymade Americas of MSNBC and Fox News, of Republicans and Democrats, of conservatives and liberals. All of us live in a land where there are two Americas, one of unimaginable wealth, the other of miserable poverty; an America of the promised good life and one of almost guaranteed premature death.

Unleashing the Power of Poor and Low-Income Voters

One enduring narrative from the 2016 election is that poor and low-income voters won Donald Trump the White House, even if the numbers don’t bear it out. Hillary Clinton won by 12 points among voters who made less than $30,000 a year and by 9 points among voters who made less than $49,999; the median household income of Trump voters then was $72,000.

Four years later, initial estimates suggest that this trend has only intensified: Joe Biden attracted more poor and low-income voters than President Trump both in the aggregate and in key states like Michigan. Trump, on the other hand, gained among voters with annual family incomes of more than $100,000. Last week, the director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab noted that this “appears to be the biggest demographic shift I’m seeing. And you can tie that to [Trump’s] tax cuts [for the wealthy] and lower regulations.”

In 2016, there were 64 million eligible poor and low-income voters, 32 million of whom did not vote. In 2020, it’s becoming clear that poor and low-income voters helped decide the election’s outcome by opting for a candidate who signaled support for key antipoverty issues like raising the minimum wage, expanding health care, and protecting the environment. In down-ballot races, every congressional member who endorsed Medicare for All won reelection, even in swing states. Imagine then how many dispossessed and disenfranchised voters might have turned out if more candidates had actually been speaking to the most pressing issues of their lives?

Seventy-two percent of Americans said that they would prefer a government-run healthcare plan and more than 70% supported raising the minimum wage, including 62% of Republicans. Even in districts that went for Trump, voters passed ballot measures that, only a few years ago, would have been unheard of. In Mississippi, people voted to decriminalize medical marijuana, while in Florida a referendum for a $15 minimum wage got more votes than either of the two presidential candidates.

If nothing else, Election 2020 revealed a deeply divided nation — two Americas, not one — though that dividing line marked anything but an even or obvious split. A startling number of Americans are trapped in wretched conditions and hungry for a clean break with the status quo. On the other hand, the rampant voter suppression and racialized gerrymandering of the last decade of American politics suggests that extremists from the wealthier America will go to remarkable lengths to undercut the power of those at the bottom of this society. They have proven ready to use every tool and scare tactic of racist division and subterfuge imaginable to stop poor Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, and white potential voters from building new and transformative alliances, including a new electorate.

It’s time to move beyond the defeatist myth of the Solid South or even the dulling comfort of a Midwestern “blue wall.” Across the South and the Midwest, there are voter-suppression states still to win, not for a party, but for a fusion movement of the many. The same could be true for the coasts and the Southwest, where there remains a sleeping giant of poor and low-income people yet to be pulled into political action. If this country is ever going to be built back better, to borrow Joe Biden’s campaign pledge, it’s time to turn to its abandoned corners; to, that is, the other America of Martin Luther King that still haunts us, whether we know it or not.

Fusion Politics in the Other America

When Dr. King gave his “Other America” speech, he was preparing for what would become the last political project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. At a time when the nation appeared to be fraying at the seams, he grasped that a giant social leap forward was still possible. In fact, he envisioned a protracted struggle that might catapult this country into a new era of human rights and revolution not through sanguine calls for unity, but via a rousing fusion of poor and dispossessed people from all walks of life. And that, as he imagined it, would also involve a recognition that systemic racism and other forms of hate and prejudice were crucial to the maintenence of the two Americas and had to be challenged head-on.

The idea of such fusion politics echoed earlier chapters of political reckoning and transformation in this country. From the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction into the 1890s, newly emancipated Blacks built unprecedented, if fragile, alliances with poor whites to seize governing power. Across a new South, fusion parties expanded voting rights, access to public education, labor protections, fair taxation, and more. In North Carolina in 1868, for instance, legislators went so far as to rewrite the state constitution to codify for the first time the right of all citizens to “life, liberty, and the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.”

For nearly 30 years, I’ve been part of a modern version of fusion organizing, even as I studied earlier examples of it — and this country’s history is rich with them. Indeed, the modern Poor People’s Campaign that I co-chair is itself inspired by such past fusion movements, including the version of politics I was first introduced to by multiracial welfare rights and homeless organizing in the 1980s and 1990s.

Organizations like the National Welfare Rights Union and the National Union of the Homeless first grew in response to the neoliberal politics of President Ronald Reagan and his attacks on the poor, especially the Black poor, or, as he put it, “welfare queens.” In response to such myths and deep, divisive cuts, out of shelters and from the streets, poor people began to organize projects of mutual aid and solidarity, including “unions” of the homeless.

By the 1980s, the National Union of the Homeless had been created and had upwards of 30,000 members in 25 cities. Meanwhile, organizers across the country soon escalated their efforts with waves of coordinated and nonviolent takeovers of vacant federally owned buildings at a time when the government had abdicated its responsibility to protect and provide for its poorest citizens. Those poor and homeless leaders also helped the Homeless Union secure guarantees from the federal government both for more subsidized housing and for protections of the right of the homeless to vote.

Today, in the middle of an economic crisis that could, in the end, rival the Great Depression, I’m reminded not just of those moments that first involved me but of the fusion movements of the early 1930s. After all, in those years, shanty towns called “Hoovervilles” — given that Herbert Hoover was still president — cropped up in cities across the country.

Not unlike the tent cities of the Homeless Union and the Welfare Rights Movement in the 1980s and the ones appearing today, those Hoovervilles were where masses of the unemployed and homeless gathered to survive the worst of that depression and strategize on how to resist its misery. Multiracial Unemployed Councils organized and fought for relief for workers without jobs then, preventing thousands of evictions and utility shutoffs.

Meanwhile, in the abandoned fields of the Southern Delta from Arkansas to Mississippi, groups like the Southern Tenant Farmers Union pioneered the dangerous work of organizing Black and white tenant farmers and sharecroppers. When the New Deal coalition bet its future on compromise with white Southern extremists, members of that union were among the last guardians of the rights of poor agrarian workers. Their lonely clarity on the significance of fusion politics in the South stood in stark contrast to the rise of an unmitigated politics of white reaction there.

Today, as top Democrats like Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer claim the legacy of Great Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, remember the fusion organizing that helped bring him to power and pushed him to enact change. I’m thinking in particular of the more than 40,000 unemployed veterans of World War I who arrived in Washington D.C. in 1932 to demand the early payment of promised bonuses, previously only considered redeemable after 1945. That Bonus Army, as the veterans called it, collected many of the fraying threads of the American tapestry, making camp, sometimes with wives and children, on seized public land just across the Potomac River from the capital’s federal office buildings, while holding regular nonviolent marches and rallies.

Eventually, President Herbert Hoover ordered the U.S. Army to tear down the camp in a violent fashion. The mistreatment of those poor and war-weary veterans in the process proved to be a lightning rod for the public and so Hoover lost to FDR in the presidential election later that year, setting the stage for a decade defined by militant organizing and major shifts in national policy.

The Mandate of the Poor Today

There are already those in the media and politics who are counseling restraint and a return to the pre-Trump days, as if he were the cause, not the consequence, of a nation desperately divided. This would be nothing less than a disaster, given that the fissures in our democracy so desperately need mending not with nice words but with a new governing contract with the American people.

The battleground states that won Joe Biden the presidency have also been battlegrounds in the most recent war against the poor. In Michigan, hit first and worst by deindustrialization, millions have struggled with a failing water system and a jobs crisis. In Wisconsin, where unions have been under attack for years and austerity has become the norm, both budgets and social welfare policies have been slashed by legislatures. In Pennsylvania, rural hospitals have been closing at an alarming rate and, even before the pandemic hit, the poorest large city in the country, Philadelphia, had already become a checkerboard of disinvestment and gentrification. In Georgia, 1.3 million renters — 45% of the households in that state — were at risk of eviction this year. And in Arizona, the climate crisis and Covid-19 have ravaged entire communities, including the members of Indigenous nations who recently turned out to vote in record numbers.

The people of these states and 15 more helped elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and count on one thing: with their votes, they were calling for more than just an end to Trumpism. They were demanding that a new era of change begin for the poor and marginalized. The first priority in such an era should, of course, be to pass a comprehensive relief bill to control the pandemic and buoy the millions of Americans now facing a cold, dark winter of deprivation. The House and the Senate have a moral responsibility to get this done as soon as the new administration takes office, if not before (though tell that to Mitch McConnell). The first 100 days of the Biden administration should then be focused, at least in part, on launching a historic investment in securing permanent protections for the poor, including expanded voting rights, universal healthcare, affordable housing, a living wage, and a guaranteed adequate annual income, not to speak of divestment from the war economy and a swift transition to a green economy.

That should be the mandate of our next government. And that’s why we, the overflowing millions, must harness the fusion politics that was so crucial to the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and organize in the best tradition of our predecessors. Real social progress rarely comes slowly and steadily, but in leaps and bounds. The predictable stalemate of the next administration and its Republican opposition can’t be broken by grand speeches in the House or Senate. It can only be broken by a vast social movement capable of awakening the moral imagination of the nation.

It’s time to get to work.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Amfortas the hippie

    one of my favorite people(along with Rev. Barber) in america, today.
    from my first glimmerings of political awareness, during Reagantime, i’ve watched the poverty and desperation grow and fester…while pols on “both sides” made it worse, and continued to distract and confuse and deny…or, worse, blame the poor and desperate for their poverty and desperation.
    and, yet…just yesterday, on the way to and from san antonio, the enormous trump flag still waves defiantly over a broken down trailer house just outside of comfort, texas.
    propaganda and divisionary mindf*ck works.
    having only a hard right and soft right party to choose from ain’t gonna cut it.
    how bad does it hafta get?
    and when that awareness threshold is reached, will it be too late?
    i am hardly sanguine about our prospects.

    1. Noone from Nowheresville

      Note the partisanship in the article. It’s not blatant like of some them that have passed by recently but it’s there. e.g., where’s the mention of the Clinton era? apparently the massive changes of the 90s don’t warrant a mention in the game we call poverty.

      If a civil war comes to the US, it will be the PMC on either side of the aisle which starts it. And if we could get the billionaire class to stop hoarding wealth, power and resources, it will be the PMC class which hovers the excess up so the poors and marginalized will still be screwed. As it should be. /sarc

      As far as a new era of change for the poor and the marginalized? Forgive me while I have a laughing fit.

      Have we forgotten the rules of neoliberalism? Go die is a fundamental one. Herd immunity is part and parcel of that. Wasn’t that the founding response principal of our “elites” at the beginning of the pandemic? This is still only a tragedy to them, not a crisis.

      Did I somehow miss the non-neoliberal candidate on the ballot? Or perhaps that the liberal- or libertarian-leaning PMC classes had changed their neoliberal ways?

      I am even more cynical, Amfortas. Even in this article there is that subtle us v. them underlying thread. No real truth telling to oneself. The article speaks to an already well-established audience and they will blame the other side as well as the poors for their “choices.” To my mind, the show must go on and the one-note public players will fulfill their roles to their utmost abilities.

      1. carl

        Call me cynical as well. Let’s see if I got this right: the problems are longstanding, and have gotten much worse, but in working as hard as we can for the last thirty years, we’ve made a little progress. We just need to work a little harder, and success is within our reach And the poor vote Democrat.

  2. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    If someone with a crystal ball had told me & very likely anyone back in the early 80’s, when I very nearly accepted a job offer from a large American giftware company, that the above would become the reality of what back then at least appeared from the outside to be a place where one could prosper if you were prepared to put your shoulder to the wheel, they would likely have been seen as fit for a long stay in an asylum.

    Let them learn code doesn’t have the same ring as let them eat cake, but the attitude behind both of these expressions appears to me at least to be a perfect match.

    1. divadab

      High achievers do better in the US of A than just about anywhere else. This is why so many ambitious immigrants prosper and build themselves golden palaces. But the flip side of this is that the poor do worse in the US of A than anywhere else in the first world – why is this, in the richest empire the world has ever known that the poor are treated as ordure to be swept away and punished?

      1. ambrit

        I’ll suggest that it was the establishment of the social safety nets during the New Deal era that kept the American system from going completely ‘off the rails.’ By keeping the “lower classes” just one step above true poverty, the New Deal policies managed to distract “the masses” away from class based organizing. “Things” weren’t bad enough to radicalize the minds of those “masses” that would be necessary as the shock troops of a “real” revolution. The other necessity of modern revolutions, a disaffected upper or middle class faction, was co-opted by the Elites. All because the available resources of the nation were distributed a bit more equally than the historical norm. (Just because something is such a ‘historical norm’ does not sanctify it in any way. Cruelty and sadism are also historical norms, and I would not want to essay to defend those traits.)
        Today, however, we are sitting in ringside seats at the spectacle of the blind self-destruction of the extant Elites. They have forgotten the hard won lessons of the past and are H— bent on repeating the sanguinary mistakes of their forebears.
        I would thus suggest several basic rules, to counter the Rules of Neo-liberalism:
        (1) History never ends.
        (2) History rhymes.
        (3) History has no “Moral Compass.”
        (4) History has no “agency,” but the people enmeshed in it do.

        1. Ford Prefect

          However, many of the New Deal programs were deliberately structured to prevent minorities, especially blacks from getting the benefits. This included major exclusions of agriculture and mining from many rules unless you were the owner. It also included financiing restriction on housing that made financing for developers and individuals available as long as no houses were sold to blacks with explicit covenants as well as FHA redlining of “blighted” communities (blighted was defined as blacks live there). Health care insurance was provided by companies for their preferred employees.

          As globabilization expanded, many more white people started to drop into those categories of with no or poor safety net that used to be largely reserved for blacks and other minorities with low minimum wages, lack of safety regulations, lack of healthcare insurance, etc. Since companies are now color-blind, this works just fine for them. But many people don’t like that they are treated now like “those people” leading to the degree of stress we are seeing.

          Social Security is one of the few safety net programs that has been largely color-blind and successful over the past few decades which is presumably why it is now Target No. 1 in the conservative cross-hairs. The progressive nature where low-annual earnings get reecognized at a very high percentage while higher earnings contribute dramatically less is anathema in a “meritocracy”.

          The US claims to be against socialism, but the amount of money being shuffled through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, agricultural subsidies, financial firm bail-outs, major tax deductions and credits for corporations and the wealthy makes for socialism with very imperfect safety nets for the bottom 50%, but substantial opportunity for government funds to go to the wealthy and well-to-do.

        2. richard

          by rhymes i guess you mean pattern and repetition? Could you provide an example or so? This is very interesting.
          i agree that the modest reforms (compared to what other industrial countries did) of the new deal prevented a more clearly class based politics from developing in the u.s. Before Roosevelt when class has threatened to become a big factor in how ‘mericans read things (the populists in the 1890’s, the Socialists and wobblies in the teens), our government used imperialism to distract and police/militia repression.
          where is the rhyme for the 1930’s i wonder? we are all waiting…

          1. ambrit

            Good questions all.
            One “rhyme” that pops up in my mind is the similarity between the plot against FDR by Financial Interests alleged by Smedley Butler and the Russiagate hoax perpetuated by the “Security State” on the behalf of the same Financial Interests, (as a class.)
            Another “rhyme” I see is the impoverishment of the ‘lower classes’ by the financial Interests and their minions. Back in the 1930s, the impoverishment was carried out through the stock market crash wiping out the speculative “earnings” of millions of ‘lower class’ punters. Today, the impoverishment is done through the QE abetted inflating away of the ‘lower class’s’ standard of living.
            Another “rhyme” I see is the continuing use of Imperialism as a distraction for the ‘masses.’
            Yet another “rhyme” is the use of “Socialism” as a bogeyman with which to stoke faux fear and thus stymie ‘real’ reform. The demonization of “Socialism” automatically precludes any resort to communitarian solutions to social problems.
            Another “rhyme” is the use of the ‘entertainment Sector’ to propagandize the ‘masses’ against real anger against the elites. Back in the 1930s, consider the trend of “screwball comedies.” They generally made fun of the rich, but excused the rich of any culpability in the social ills of the time in various ways. Today, America is awash in “feel good” superhero fight fests. Superheros exist basically to give the “downtrodden” a vicarious feeling of competence and power in the face of “overwhelming odds.” It is no coincidence that Superhero movies are mainly based on comic books, they being the quintessential adolescent escapist literature of our times. Although fun, in a sense, comic books are supposed to give way to more serious literature as the adolescent ‘grows up.’ Ensign Chekhov should turn into Anton Chekhov in the ‘normal’ course of events.
            There is more, but I feel tiredness beginning to take effect.
            Stay safe!

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              > Back in the 1930s, consider the trend of “screwball comedies.” They generally made fun of the rich, but excused the rich of any culpability in the social ills of the time in various ways. Today, America is awash in “feel good” superhero fight fests. Superheros exist basically to give the “downtrodden” a vicarious feeling of competence and power in the face of “overwhelming odds.”

              That’s a very interesting comparison!

      2. km

        As a high achiever who has, after a long struggle, managed to prosper, I can say that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

        In other words, I got lucky, and as far as I can tell, many of those who prosper got lucky as well.

    2. Noone from Nowheresville

      The thing people forget about let them learn to code is all the coding / training, dare I say frenzy, that happened in the years leading up to Y2K back in the mid-90s. That IT frenzy hit a lot more than coding in the corporate world. There were software application and desktop migrations. Hardware rollouts. Network infrastructure projects. Mass e-mail projects. And security. Now add in all the coding. Plus all of the end-user training services just to allow employees to be able to do their jobs.

      If coding was a sustainable profession / career path in the US, where did all those US coders and other US IT professionals go? Shouldn’t their numbers be legion by now, twenty years later? As opposed to all the gig work and outsourcing / insourcing?

      How about let them eat code? The best of both world, perhaps?

      1. jsn

        Thank you!

        Living your values is very costly in the US, unless greed is your only value, then it’s very rewarding.

        “The big time” requires a complete lack of empathy and moral imagination.

        1. Rod

          imo, you have said it very clearly and succinctly–maybe i would have said “groomed ability to compartmentalize empathy and moral imagination” but i can agree with your sentiment wholly.

      2. John Wright

        The “let them eat code” advocates don’t seem to code themselves (Rahm Emmanuel) or understand that simple coding can be learned by vast numbers of people around the world.

        In other words, unless one believes that an expensively educated USA coder is far superior to a overseas competitor, the USA coder has “no moat” around their assumed future new coding job.

        I remember taking a class about 15 years ago in programmable logic controllers (aka PLC’s) that are used in factories and local process control (semiconductor plants, wineries, manufacturing).

        The instructor, who worked in the winery industry, mentioned that there was a lower chance of these devices (PLC’s) being programmed remotely as a local factory worker might be severely injured/killed by a programming error by someone remotely writing/installing the code.

        He viewed this as making his current PLC programming job more secure and more resistant to outsourcing, so he had a protective “moat” around his job.

        But how many of these specialized coding jobs are there out there?

        And these “coding moat” jobs require far more experience with process control and hardware than one would get in any “learn to code” course.

        The ‘learn to code” movement is simply a way to avoid doing anything about the low wage jobs in the USA.

        1. Ford Prefect

          I thought many of the coding jobs are now done in India and China? Or are those countries outsourcing to Indiana and Mississippi now?

      3. Starry Gordon

        If by ‘coding’ you mean ‘computer programming’: first of all, many people, however intelligent, simply can’t do it. It’s a very peculiar, almost pathological form of thought, in which a project or problem has to be broken down into very many very tiny pieces, that seemingly have nothing to do with their ultimate purpose, and are then assembled into a solution. Of those who can learn it, many dislike it and look for some other way to make a living. Of those who can do it without too much distaste, many burn out after a few years. As most commercial programmers are involved in some business, there are routes out of the nerd bin into other aspects of the business, and the former coders become planners or administrators or managers or whatever, or wind up wrapping meat in a supermarket, as one of my former colleagues did. ‘Coding’ is not a miracle path to employment for all, but since many people do not know much about it, it’s often proposed as a sort of mechanical magic fairy.

        1. Ford Prefect

          I think there are two categories.

          1. Can you program your machine shop tool?
          2. Can you write software code for a new smartphone app or PC program?

          Given how many people struggle to set up, maintain, and operate their WiFi systems and home entertainment systems, even the first category is difficult for many people.

          1. ambrit

            I’m a techno-luddite and can attest to your point about machine tools. One of my neighbors has two CNC machines, which he uses to carry out free lance projects. He once, for laughs I suppose, slowly led me through the process of ‘programming’ one of the machines for some parts he was making for a job. For me, it was an exercise in ‘Migraine Production.’ He enjoyed the process.
            It’s all about mental and emotional temperament.
            (For example, my Dad never could understand why I could not intuitively understand the Calculus like he did. [He learned it at about fourteen or fifteen years of age. I never could.]
            We do not use WiFi systems for anything in our house. Everything is hard wired. Paranoia strikes deep. Into our lives it has crept.

      4. ChrisPacific

        I knew and worked with some of them. When the bubble popped I think a lot of them ended up unemployed for a while. Of the ones I kept up with, most seemed to have gone back to their original careers. One was a former construction worker who had retrained, and ended up going back to that.

        They were generally hardworking and moderately capable, but inexperienced. The field is full of geeks and hobbyists like me who have been tinkering with computers since almost before we could walk. This gives us a level of comfort and fluency that is very difficult for career changers to match until they’ve had a lot more practice. During an economic boom, it doesn’t matter as there are more than enough jobs for all of us, but during a recession it becomes hard for them to compete.

        Things did rebound eventually after the dot-com bust and I think a lot of them might have come back and possibly gained enough experience to make a career of it, but for one thing: the outsourcing movement, which hollowed out the market for a lot of the bridging roles that people had previously used to make the transition.

  3. Bob Hertz

    We do need more compassion and more benefits for the poor….

    but we also need some intellectual accuracy. For example, the 8 million Asians in America are generally not poor at all. Of the 38 million Latinos, not all are poor.

    One third of the electorate is not poor….well, to be more accurate, one third of likely voters is not poor.

    There is a homeless encampment on Shepard Road in St Paul not far from where I live. It has about 100 poor souls, even during warm fall weather. I want to help those folks, but it sure isn’t one third of any electorate.

    1. ambrit

      One homeless person is a case for “charity.” An individual can assay to ameliorate that person’s suffering.
      One hundred homeless people is a case for the community to handle.
      If those hundred people are not ‘handled’ well, they could be organized by “interested parties” into an effective guerrilla band of company size. Even if not organized and led properly, one hundred desperate people can spread a great deal of random chaos in a community. A starving man or woman will do “what it takes” to survive. The surrounding community will ‘support’ them one way or the other.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Fifty percent of the homeless are children: visible homeless encampments and people living under bridges does not adequately indicate the scale of the crisis. You are passing far more homeless people on the street every day than you think.

    3. Dwight

      The article and linked report show that those numbers are percentages of each population that are poor or low income. More detail in the linked report: 8 million Asians are about 40% of all Asians, and 38 million Latinos are about 65% of all Latinos. The report explains why they consider up to 200% of poverty level to be economic insecurity placing people at risk of poverty.

      Here are full numbers in report:

      52.1% or 38.5 million children (below 18)
      42.0% or 21 million elders (above 64)
      41.6% or 65.8 million men
      45% or 74.2 million women
      59.7% or 23.7 million Black, non-Hispanic people
      64.1% or 38 million Latinx people
      40.8 or 8 million Asian people
      58.9% or 2.14 million Native/Indigenous people
      33.5% or 65.6 million White, non-Hispanic people

        1. Dwight

          The one she links to as her source in the sentence on 8 million Asians and 38 million Latinos. You can’t add different categories – there are Asians and Latinos, etc. men, women, elders, and children. The racial categories add up to 140 million (hint, that’s where the link is.)

        2. JBird4049

          Of course, there is double counting. Someone can be a poor, White, elderly woman. You have to use the same kinds of categories for an accurate count. For instance, men and women, or 68.5 and 74.2 million respectively for a total of 142.7 million poor people. There are about 335 million Americans, which makes it a poverty rate of around 43%. A lot of Americans are not having any honey and milk in this, the Land of Milk and Honey.

          1. tegnost

            I agree, but the way the numbers are presented is deceptive.
            Which linked report? One could clarify by saying, among the 140 million are these categories…

  4. divadab

    I’m writing this from rural Canada – where, as Jesus said, the poor you will always have with you. Just as in the US of A, as in everywhere. But the poor here are at least clothed, housed, and fed, and have free healthcare just like everybody else. But in why is it that in the US of A the poor are rather punished and tortured and relegated to sickness and death and utmost precarity? How flipping cruel, while the masters buy yet another private jet? All under the aegis of the Marie Antoinette duopoly, who enrich themselves while in government and give corporate welfare to their chums? Why is this?

    1. boots

      Speaking of Canada… John Dolan’s various writing on being homeless in Vancouver are some of the best recent writing on ‘first world’ poverty I’ve read.

      He maintains it’s easier to be a poor expat in Iraq or East Timor than in Canada. For various reasons. One of his Canada pieces is ‘Canada Was A Cakewalk’:

      1. furies

        Thanks. I enjoyed them.

        I tried to get sanctuary in Canada lo these many years ago.

        I likely would have ended up as these folks.

  5. Tom Stone

    There have been a few structural changes here and there since the 80’s and 90’s….
    Total information Awareness as a public/private partnership, night and fog laws reminiscent of a certain european country in the 20th Century, legalized bribery via ‘Citizen’s United…
    Take a look at the implications of the “Kelo” decision and don’t forget that if you make too much trouble ( Or your dad does) the Prez or his designee can put you on a kill list.
    Abdulrahman Al- Awlaki was 16 years old, an American Citizen who had not been charged with any crime, the nearly 2 dozen innocents killed or maimed in the attack had no value.
    Habeas Corpus is gone and torture is legal.
    Assange will almost certainly die in jail, we just saw overt corporate censorship by facebook, Twitter and the NY Times.
    Biden/Harris have promised that nothing will fundamentally change, we will get more of the same, harder.
    Remember what happened to “Occupy”?
    Biden and Harris have been very well rewarded indeed for their corruption and cruelty, expecting them to change for the better is nuts.

  6. jhallc

    “Eventually, President Herbert Hoover ordered the U.S. Army to tear down the camp in a violent fashion. The mistreatment of those poor and war-weary veterans in the process proved to be a lightning rod for the public and so Hoover lost to FDR in the presidential election later that year, setting the stage for a decade defined by militant organizing and major shifts in national policy.”

    Seem to remember some OWS camps that Obama had torn down. History does rhyme. Except instead of FDR we got Trump. The partisan bias is strong with this writer.

    1. Expat2Uruguay

      I didn’t see it as partisan bias, but as a blindness to a socialistic left, but those two things do go hand-in-hand. There’s no mention of Bernie Sanders, and as the hippie pointed out above , no mention of Bill Clinton. It seems to me that the author of this article is being careful to remain acceptable to the Democratic party.

      The article talks of militancy in past movements, but it does not display a militant mindset for the current moment. I’m not familiar with this author, and I’m very surprised that she’s co-chair of the Poor People’s movement, because I thought that was a movement far more willing to call out the Democrats, at least based on what I’ve heard from the Reverend Barber. This article feels like it’s really playing it safe. There’s no mention of prop 22 in California. There’s no association with the new Administration to the problems under discussion in the article. While I wish the movement the greatest of success, I can sum this article up in one word, timid.

      1. jhallc

        “Blindness” is being kind, I hope you’re right. Her use of the term “Universal Healthcare” and not Medicare for All suggests she is being careful not to look like a radical Socialist.

        1. JBird4049

          Those Americans who have advocated for reforms in the past few centuries especially across race and class often have had their careers stunted, if they are lucky, or their lives, if they are not, with being White, or of a higher class, not a guarantee of safety. The repression rises and falls with the last few decades being relatively safe. I think that is ending and she is wise to be cautious. Something like COINTELPRO is likely being geared up.

      2. Big River Bandido

        I fully agree with your take here. The writer blindly ignores the fact that Joe Biden is part of the very same neoliberal power structure that created our modern inequality.

        This article is pathetically weak tea.

  7. Arizona Slim

    This part of the post really bopped me over the head:

    “[I]n Florida a referendum for a $15 minimum wage got more votes than either of the two presidential candidates.”

    I suspect, that when the 2020 election dust settles, similar reports will emerge from states that legalized marijuana or in cities that passed non-binding referendums in favor of municipal broadband.

    Methinks that We The People were selective voters this year. As in, leaving the POTUS part of the ballot blank, but voting for things that were closer to home.

      1. ambrit

        I’m curious as to whether the number of this year’s “down ballot” initiatives was more than usual, and did more than usual pass?
        I’m in full agreement with both above that, this year, the electorate voted strongly for “concrete material benefits.”

    1. diptherio

      Unfortunately, the part that no one seems to want to mention about the minimum wage win in FL is that it raises the minimum to $15/hr over a six year period. Seems even when we win, we lose.

      Here in MT, pretty much every elected office up for grabs went to the Rs (which is a pretty unusual sweep), but recreational MJ passed with flying colors.

      1. Charger01

        Why does Montana vote for weirdo Ds? Starting back in the 70s, Anderson, Judge, Schwinden, Schweitzer and Bullock. Even for deep red Montana, it seems like an odd situation to have these intermountain conservative Dems as governors.

        1. diptherio

          Not sure what you mean by that. Our D governors have all been pretty milquetoast, mainstream types. Our next gov is a real…I don’t know if weirdo is quite the word, but close enough, I guess. Gianforte is tech tycoon who assaulted a journalist for asking an inconvenient question during his run for Congress. And self-proclaimed proud “corporate lap-dog” Judy Martz was quite a doozy as well. On the whole, the D governors have been much less cray-cray than the Rs.

          And deep red is some broad-brush nonsense, btw. One and the same electorate has kept one D and one R in the Senate my entire lifetime, so we’re not quite the monolith you outsiders take us to be. Politics is about a lot more than presidential votes, you know?

  8. jhallc

    If Ms. Theoharis thinks a Biden administration will actually give a $hit about poor folks she is greatly mistaken. I fail to see how will it be any different from the Obama/Biden years where the poor in Flint were left with little Federal help to fix the water system and low income homeowners were used to “foam the runway”. She is correct that the working class abandoned the Democrats in 2016 and but, fails to see the significance of the jump in low income and minority support for Trump in the Biden squeaker this time around.

    1. d

      i suspect thats a comparison to the Trump admin, basically the bar was set so low that all but even worse treatment of the poor.

  9. John

    The Democrats look with smugness and contempt upon the white underclass. The Republicans look with smugness and contempt upon the black and brown underclass. Both wings of the corporate party understand the necessity to keep the underclass divided and confused.
    It will work until overtaken by chaos.

    1. boots

      She includes the whites, albeit last, and with caveats about ‘disproportionate.’ She includes absolute numbers of the whites. Those are interventions into the PMC narrative I appreciate.

      Like Amfortas, I like her. I read with cynicism, and mentally flagged her partisanship, then saw that she remembered the whites, that she discussed the welfare unions and the fusion ticket. Our comments on this piece are hurt and wounded, because we need not just politics but ministry. I see her taking steps in both directions, and appreciate it.

      Sure, she leaves out the heartbreaking Clinton-Biden welfare destruction and incarceration policy, Harris’s similar policy, internationalism, single payer, debt jubilee, class analysis of precarity, etc.

      What she doesn’t leave out is some badly needed ministry with politics, something I will try to take to heart as we go into the season of (absent) family and (lonely) feast days.

    2. Dwight

      Netflix is throwing the smug Dems red meat with the upcoming Hillbilly Elegy video. Citations Needed dissects it with assistance of Kentucky activists.

        1. Dwight

          True, but they read the book, and their guests have personal knowledge of the region and issues. Plus the author is at AEI, not CERP, which is telling. I’ll watch it and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

  10. Brick

    Whilst I appreciate the sentiment of the post to put real social progress on the agenda, it makes me uncomfortable like some others commenters to stereotype into such broad categories. It seems to me that broad categorization by all political persuasions is driving the division.

    There is a minority of people who will be work shy or game welfare and possibly need targeted persuasion. There are communities where targeted early local intervention and encouragement can avoid straying into crime. There are police officers who are openly biased and yet there are also those who become ultra wary through bad experiences. There are those whose lives are one long series of redundancies, no training and never catch a break. There are those working multiple jobs and very long hours who at the end of the week run out of money to feed themselves. There are businesses and business leaders who are siphoning of from government coffers without giving much return.

    The political stories we are encouraged to believe are not true about poor and rich or white and minority. The problem is that elites like to manage and control and be seen to set a strategy. What is needed is a leader who can empower those with detailed knowledge, local know how and real results. The issues for deprived or persecuted people are varied and almost need to be on an individual basis or community basis.It can also change so quickly that even the most well informed can struggle to keep abreast of issues as they arise.Badly informed strategies from all sides of the political divisions based on out of date stereotyping are fueling the decrease in social progress.Stereotyping helps encourage like minded people to circle the wagons and blame those outside rather than looking inwards. This is what happens when confidence and security is consistently undermined along with unfair politically motivated allocation of rewards and punishments.

    1. anon y'mouse

      if there are no jobs, or only taskrabbiting jobs that require one have car and other capital investments (credentialing for jobs that need none, etc), no amount of “persuasion” will work.

      when are we going to stop requiring the dogs find bones that don’t exist?

  11. Barry

    We have uncritically accepted economic brainwashing. President Trump continually said that this was the best economy in the history of the United States. Best economy for whom? Uncritically the press has accepted the narrative that the pandemic destroyed our great economy. One of my earliest memories of this economic crisis was in early March there were food lines in Pittsburgh several miles long. I woke up to a story that there 5000 cars lined up in a Florida mall parking lot to receive food. These stories of food lines have been replicated multiple times. The economic crisis was already upon us when covid hit.

    The average American was living pay check to pay check. Many Americans had no more than $400 in savings. It is not surprising that just weeks into the crisis, Americans had no emergency funds to feed their families. Layoffs occurred almost instantaneously.

    We have had pious lectures about the risks of socialism coming to the US. Well socialism is here it just favors the rich. If a bank or an airline fails, cries arise in the halls of Congress that we can;t let Delta or Bank America fail. Isn’t capitalism about rewarding risk and punishing failure? If management chooses to spend their resources on share buy backs, why is that risk “socialized” to the tax payer. Why are bondholders bailed out. Naked Capitalism should explain to its reader what naked capitalism really is.

    It is hypocritical to not pass a second relief bill to help our workers, while saving entire industries. . But you will argue how can we let businesses fail it will cost jobs. We have bankruptcy laws which permit companies to be reorganized. The airline industry is rife with histories of bankruptcies. Perhaps bankruptcies will restore old fashioned prudence when corporations had real cash on their balance sheets to meet emergency conditions

    Listening to Trump talk about stock market gains ignores the rest of the work force. Examining averages and GDP is not a true measure of the state of the US economy. I think long line of cars and empty storefronts are better measures of our economic health.

  12. lobelia

    I stopped taking this post seriously when I noticed California’s US record and insane numbers of unsheltered homeless (PRE COVID 19) were never mentioned – despite California always being touted as the most caring of STATES and soon to be VP, Kamala Harris, being an unfulfilled first term California Senator who has exacerbated California’s inequality under the many Hats she’s been gifted in the name of Identification Politics™ [IDPol]. That, while the post implies that Biden (who appears to be increasingly not cognizant, and was particularly venal when he was cognizant), and Kamala Harris, might actually do something for the increasingly and permanently impoverished.

    Additionally, also regarding California –which so many Progressives™ claim leads the Nation in Progressive™ Life Enhancing Policy – there was utterly no discussion in this post of the terrifying (as usual) votes results for/against of Propositions which votes, for/against, might have eased at least a little bit of the misery for over a third of California’s population. I wish I had the time to detail those failures, numerous failures, as I’m understanding (the count won’t even be technically done till November 20th). Certainly Proposition 21, Eviction Protections, not passing, and Proposition 22, Uber et al’s Utterly Failing Vulnerable Gig Workers and forcing them into an Insane Self Employment status, and all the horrendous and utterly unaffordable expenses that implies, passing are two of the most venal results.

    I was already thoroughly disappointed by Reverend Barber a while back, aligning with San Francisco Penthouse Pelosi Neighbor, partnering as a Silicon Valley, Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California, Venture Capitalist, Ex Vice President Al Gore (do check out his political contributions at the Open Secret site, his Real Estate Holdings™ and his Board of Director alliances with the likes of Google et al. Even his highly toothpasted WIKI PAGE! gives in between the lines indications of his Revolting Elitism), this post has furthered my suspicions, when I desperately hoped it would not.

    Al Gore, Yet another shame in my voting history, though Nader has also garnered my scorn (long story), wish I had have voted for NOA that year.

  13. lobelia

    Sorry, I totally despise acronyms myself, as they represent the literal and vicious stealing of time from the masses, NOA=None of the above.

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