The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass
Like so many before them, our recent disorders have been rooted in issues of race. But in the longer run, the underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multi-racial, class of neo-serfs.
Like its Medieval counterpart, today’s serf class consists of the permanently marginalized—like the peasants of feudal times, these people are unlikely to move to a higher station. This does not only apply to the residents of our ghettos and barrios. Many of our young people, white and otherwise, appear to have little or no hope of attaining the usual milestones of entry into the middle class—gaining a useful and marketable skill, starting a small business, or buying a home or other property.
Throughout much of the 20th century, this aspiration was very much alive as more and more people, including racial minorities and immigrants, entered the middle ranks. Now, in contrast, the doors are slamming shut for millions of Americans.
This trend has been made worse by the lockdowns surrounding the pandemic. Almost 40% of those Americans making under $40,000 a year have lost their jobs. The unemployment rate of those with less than a high-school diploma jumped from 6.8% to 21.2%. For college graduates, it rose from 2.5% to 8.4%. Salaried workers have been laid off at roughly half the rate of hourly workers.
The biggest drops in hiring have been concentrated in recreation and travel, largely “personal contact” jobs that employ many low-wage workers. Employment in this sector has dropped 70% while remaining remarkably stable throughout the public sector and in such fields as computer networking.
Many young people, including college graduates, are now often employed in these low-wage industries. They are suffering the largest share of our job losses for any age group. In a new report, Data for Progress found that a staggering 52% of people under the age of 45 have lost a job, been put on leave, or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic.
This class of underemployed and unemployed youths appears to be represented among the rioters and looters that took advantage of peaceful and legitimate protests. Particularly telling has been the role played by predominately white radicals—whom Mike Lind hilariously labels “riot ninjas.” Although often emerging from largely privileged backgrounds, radicals—whether part of anti-fa or just freelance—can be seen as putting into action the political indoctrination they imbibed in college and, increasingly, even earlier.
Read the rest of this essay at American Mind.
Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin
Photo credit: Bibliothèque nationale de France, via Wikimedia under Public Domain