Flyover: Can you pull yourself up by your 'bootstraps'?

This week on Flyover from MPR News, we're talking about bootstraps. We want to know if hard work is enough to get by in your corner of America. Tell us here on the blog or call 1-87-FLYOVER-1.

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  • Some related reading for this week's show comes from UC Davis' Center for Poverty Research. The article "What is the current poverty rate in the United States?" offers a good visualization of poverty levels throughout history. It discusses how Lyndon Johnson’s "war on poverty" in the late 1960s was able to bring the poverty levels 11.3 percent. However, even with increased awareness of poverty over 40 million Americans today are under the poverty line. 
     
    “The official poverty rate is 13.5 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty according to the official measure. According to supplemental poverty measure, the poverty rate was 14.3 percent.”
     
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  • A look at 'bootstraps' in America

     
    The fabled American dream suggests that grit, determination and hard work are all it takes to be successful in this country. 
     
    But there's one other little thing you need for this bootstraps theory of to work out: money.
     
    And even if you have some cash to start, social mobility seems to be getting worse in the U.S.

    Here's some analysis from The Washington Center for Equitable Growth:
     
    "One of the defining features of the 'American Dream' is the ideal that children have a higher standard of living than their parents. We assess whether the United States is living up to this ideal by estimating rates of 'absolute income mobility,' or the fraction of children who earn more than their parents, since 1940. ... We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90 percent for children born in 1940 to 50 percent for children born in the 1980s. Absolute income mobility has fallen across the entire income distribution, with the largest declines for families in the middle class."
     
    Over 8 million families live in poverty in the U.S., and there's glaring racial inequity. The U.S. Census Bureau last week dumped a massive data set studying Americans from 2011 through 2016. 
     
    While overall median household income increased to $59,039 in 2016, it's crucial to take note of the racial disparities. Here's the census' breakdown for median household income by race: 
     
    • Asian — $81,431
     
    • Non-Hispanic white — $65,041
     
    • Hispanic — $47,675
     
    • Black — $39,490
     
    Then there's the gender gap: men's median annual income was $10,000 more than women's in 2016, per the census. (Disclaimer: The census only offered data for these four broad racial groups and two sexes.)
     
    Considering all this, we have some questions: Can Americans still climb the economic ladder? Are the disparities that exist structural or racist barriers in our culture and economy? Or is there a lack of social mobility because individuals refuse to pull themselves up?
     
    Comment on our live blog, tweet using the hashtag #FlyoverRadio or call 1-83-FLYOVER1. The show airs live on Sunday at 3 p.m. central time, 4 p.m. eastern. Stream and call in then, or leave us a comment or voicemail anytime.
     
    By Cody Nelson
     
    by Cody Nelson edited by Stephanie Curtis, MPR News 9/16/2017 2:14:15 PM
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  • Stop telling people to blame anyone but themselves for why they are not successful. The sooner you realize that no one is going to just hand you things you will get to work. And the next time you want to point to research to support your argument, find a better source than a think tank founded by John Podesta, hardly a trustworthy source.
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  • Here is some of the lingo that will be tossed around this hour:
     
    • Absolute mobility measures actual financial progress over time;
       
    • Relative mobility measures changes for one group compared with a moving average of all groups;
       
    • Intragenerational mobility looks at how much a person’s income changes when compared with earlier points in his or her life, and
       
    • Intergenerational mobility examines the economic condition of adult children relative to that of their parents, which can also be a measurement based on absolute or relative differences.
    This is from a Heritage Foundation policy paper "A Guide to Understanding International Comparisons of Economic Mobility"
     
     
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  • Kerri Miller's guests this week:

    Stephen Henderson, host of WDET’s Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson
    Linda Tirado, author of “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America
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  • Kerri Miller wants to know if you've felt 'less than' at times because you are not as economically successful as your neighbors, colleagues, or friends. Do you feel like people look at you as if you are to blame or even that you are morally reprehensible if you've needed to reach for help?
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  • As an historian who has studied 19th century "success," I suggest that pulling oneself up by the bootstraps did not work then any better than now. Yes, working hard was important, but not the only and often not the most important. Many people worked as hard as they could and didn't get ahead (farmers who got hit by grasshoppers, hail, too much rain, too little, etc.), factory workers who worked 60 hours a week and kept working at those jobs for their lives. Among the factors that contributed to success in America -- ability to speak English, ability to learn to read, being able-bodied, being healthy, being male, being white, being born into money, LUCK, marrying well, being in the right place at the right time. If we use false pictures of the past, we can't correctly diagnose or even address our problems. (Annette Atkins, Professor Emerita of History, Saint John's University/College of Saint Benedict, author of Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out.)
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  • Even holier-than-thou acquaintances who think they made it on their own had help. Loved book Nickled and Dimed On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Points she made about how to improve one's lot in life on minimum wage.
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  • Points are still true.
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  • I work in the travel industry and am amazed at the freebies rich people get.
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  • The thing that gets me with a topic like this is that a HUGE assumption is being made. Capitalism is destructive. It is all about tearing down the old and doing something else. Relentlessly. Too many people, in my opinion, fall into the trap of "... my parent or grandparent had it a certain way, therefore I should also have it that same way. As if time has stopped and we can all still live in all aspects of Mayberry, even though that was 50+ years ago. C'mon all you brilliant liberals (myself included), we're being idiots here by thinking that because it USED TO BE a certain way that it still should be that same way. Many things have changed for the better (and worse). We're setting ourselves up for a big let down if we suspend that assumption when it comes to jobs and pay. Everything changes. We're idiots to expect working conditions to always be rosy. They have moved on. We need to evolve.

    I am glad to find this show! Finally something good on SUN afternoon on NPR. Click and clack is getting really OLD.
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  • Wanted to bring up the issue of changing housing regulations & zoning. Trailer parks used to provide low-income housing for many where they are now gone (Hopkins, Minneapolis). People & even families used to live in shanties along the Mississippi River until they could afford better. My Mom grew up in Deephaven when it was just winterized cottages, their neighbor lived in a "basement house" until they could afford to finish their house. These ways of coping & eventually getting ahead are no longer possible.
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  • It's a WALL STREET GOVERNMENT! See the documentary film titled Inside Job & study Makers & Takers by the brilliant Rana Foroohar. Thank you for this vital topic on the heels of 9th anniversary of largest BANKRUPTCY case in US history. A DISGRACEFUL tale of GREED & Corporate, Government. & Academic CORRUPTION! Love to continue this dialogue with an on--going discussion/study group in the St. Croix County WI area! 😎
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