Monday, March 26, 2018

In 1954, John F. Kennedy talks about the relocation of textiles from New England to the South

As someone with a deep admiration for the Kennedy family and an interest in rural New England and the South, I was particularly interested in an article that I stumbled upon today in The Atlantic. In January of 1954, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote about the departure of textile mills from New England and their arrival in the South.

As Senator Kennedy notes, New England's loss of industry was largely due to the more lax labor standards in the South and the ability of the mills to get access to substantially cheaper labor. The lower influence of organized labor also served as a way to keep wages low in the South. North and South Carolina, two of the principal landing places of the textile industry regularly rank 49th and 50th in levels of union participation. This "race to the bottom" continues today with the spread of right to work legislation and the belief that unions are driving wages too high. New England, to its credit, has uniformly resisted "Right to Work."

Not surprisingly, the textile mills have largely left the Carolinas, largely due to cheaper labor in foreign markets. The parallels that one can draw from Senator Kennedy's descriptions of towns in New England that suffered the same fate is fairly obvious. Entire towns in North Carolina have lost their chief employer and are struggling to figure out how to replace that.

The lesson here is that if an industry chooses your community because of cheap labor, they will also leave when cheaper labor becomes available. I would hope that leaders in rural communities realize this sooner rather than later. I also highly encourage you to read Kennedy's article, it is an incredible snapshot in time of a rather huge economic shift in both New England and the Carolinas.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elite hypocrisy about working class white and rural women? The case of the West Virginia teachers strike

I've been reading elite bashing of working class and rural whites for years now, and I published my first article about it as long as 2011.  But the election of 2016 brought this bashing by the chattering classes to a fever pitch, and I've occasionally blogged about the phenomenon, as here and here.

One "series" I see on Twitter begins:  "And in today's episode of:  I Bet I Know Who You Voted For..." That is the common preface to re-Tweets of headlines that could previously have appeared in the "Darwin Awards" or perhaps the petty crime pages of a local paper.  I'm pasting one below.  It re-Tweets a Fox News Tweet that reads "Substitute allegedly brought boxed wine to school, vomited in class."

Another re-Tweets this Fox News Tweet:  "Woman charged with choking teen for blocking view at Disney fireworks show."

On a related note, here's an item from Instagram just a few days ago, from the account called guerrillafeminism that reads "happy international women's day except the 53% of white women who voted for trump."

Pat Bagley, the cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune (whose work I greatly admire, by the way), has referred to Trump's "idiot followers."

With that background, you can imagine my surprise--but also delight--when I saw this Tweet from Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, which bills itself as an
independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.
Despite the "nonpartisan" billing, I see it as clearly left leaning (a good thing in my book!).  Tanden's Tweet reads:
The teachers of West Virginia are heroes.  They deserve good pay and a real raise.  I stand with them.

Now, I don't recall any past Tweets by Tanden blasting Trump supporters, though I do recall some highly critical of Trump.  That's a line I've drawn myself--at least in the last year or so (I was a bit less discriminating--a bit more knee jerk--as I reeled in the wake of election of 2016)  I readily take aim at Trump but try to be more thoughtful and circumspect re: Trump supporters.  I'm looking to understand them, trying to listen empathically. (I've got a whole law review article forthcoming about female Trump supporters, delivered as the key note address at the Toledo Law Review symposium in October, 2017; hope to have the text posted soon on my page).

But the bottom line is that some things I saw on Twitter about the West Virginia teachers--many sympathetic comments of the sort Tanden shared--had me wondering if the lefties doing this Tweeting realized that many of the folks they were lauding and advocating for had no doubt voted for Trump.  That is, these newfound labor heroes with their wild-cat strike were one and the same with (many) reviled Trump voters.  Some 68% of West Virginians voted for Trump!  Could I possibly be seeing praise for these women--praise from the left?   These are the same women that many lefties on Twitter have said "get what they deserve" if they lose their healthcare (thanks to Trump's effort to dismantle Obamacare) or face further economic decline (thanks, for example, to the long-term consequences of Trump's tax reform law).

(Btw, I was at an Appalachian Justice symposium at West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown from Thursday Feb. 22 'til Saturday Feb. 24th, and I got to see the picketing--and hear the honking in support--first-hand, which was pretty cool.  One of my favorite signs, this published in the Washington Post, is below )

Michelle Goldberg, a relatively new columnist at the New York Times who is writing a lot about gender issues, offered up this column under the headline, "The Teachers Revolt in West Virginia."  She called the strike "thrilling," noting that strikes by teachers are unlawful in West Virginia, which became a right-to-work state a few years ago, and where unions do not have collective bargaining rights. Yet, Goldberg writes,
teachers and some other school employees in all of the state’s 55 counties are refusing to return to work until lawmakers give them a 5 percent raise, and commit to addressing their rapidly rising health insurance premiums.
Goldberg further explains that the "obvious impetus" for action is West Virginia's awful pay of teachers, which ranks 48th in the nation (read more analysis here).  She also discusses the critical role that health care/health insurance plays in the labor dispute:
 In the past, solid health care benefits helped make up for low wages, but because West Virginia hasn’t been putting enough money into the state agency that insures public employees, premiums and co-payments have been increasing significantly.  
Ah, there's that health care problem again, by which I mean you should read this and this, among other sources cited and discussed in my forthcoming Toledo Law Review article.

Having pored over many, many mainstream media reports of white working class Trump supporters in places like Appalachia (you guess it, all in that article forthcoming in the Toledo Law Review), I was struck by the women Goldberg identified and interviewed who did not appear to be Trump supporters.  Quite to the contrary, these women are held out as having responded to Trump's election by becoming part of what is popularly known as "the resistance." I was delighted to learn about and hear from these women, but was Goldberg unable to find any Trump supporters among the striking teachers?  I would very much have liked to have heard their attitudes about the strike, also in relation to their support for Trump.  Did they reconcile the two?

Here are excerpts/quotes about the two women Goldberg did feature, Jenny Craig, a special education teacher from Triadelphia (population 811, northern panhandle) and Amanda Howard Garvin, an elementary art teacher in Morgantown:
Craig described the anti-Trump Women’s March, as well as the explosion of local political organizing that followed it, as a “catalyst” for at least some striking teachers. “You have women now taking leadership roles in unionizing, in standing up, in leading initiatives for fairness and equality and justice for everyone,” she said.
Garvin commented:
As a profession, we’re largely made up of women. ... There are a bunch of men sitting in an office right now telling us that we don’t deserve anything better. 
Oh how I LOVE that quote.  In the wake of Trump’s election, Garvin added, women are standing up to say: 
No. We’re equal here.
I sure hope Garvin is right that the sentiment and movement are as widespread as she suggests--and Goldberg implies.  If this is accurate, liberal elites--including feminists--will have to give Craig, Garvin and so many more like them their due.  (Indeed, teacher strikes may be in the works in the equally "red" states of Oklahoma and Kentucky, too).  That will challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes about folks from this region (read more here and here), which will in turn serve all of us quite well.  

You can find more exciting coverage of the West Virginia teachers strike herehere and here.  And don't miss this by WVU Law Professor and education law expert, Joshua Weishart.  

By the way, the strike succeeded, with the teachers getting what they held out for.  

The question that all of this leaves me with is this:  What can the WV teachers strike teach us about how to build and sustain cross-class coalitions, including among whites?  How can these intra-racial coalitions interface with cross-race coalitions for even stronger pacts among progressives? And what role will gender play in that coalition building?  

Other hopeful news of change in relation to women and the national political landscape is herehere and here.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A shortage of work across small-town America, and immigration as part of the solution

I kicked off the "Working Class Whites and the Law" blog back in January with this post about the shortage of workers willing to do crappy work.  This shortage is obviously integrally linked to immigration and should inform our nation's immigration policy.  If native-born workers (of whatever color) are not available to do the work that needs to be done to keep our economy(ies) booming, then immigrant labor is a necessity if economies are to grow, or even tread water.  And growth seems to be the buzzword of the era, whether or not the growth is sustainable and whether or not such growth is good for the planet.

Never mind those concerns.   Two recent stories from two very different places--California and Missouri--illustrate the need for laborers.   

First, the California story:  well, could be any number of stories, but I'll settle on Darrell Steinberg's interview with NPR on Thursday morning, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' speech to a group of law enforcement officers in Sacramento on Wednesday. Steinberg defended Sacramento's stance as a "sanctuary city" by noting that the municipality is standing up for immigrants who, among other things, contribute to the economy:
It's the people living in our communities that have lived here, by the way, for decades. These are people going to school, people going to college, people who are contributing to our tax base. And we have an obligation to stand up for those people. And that's exactly what we're going to do.
Here's another California story that links immigration with the economy, this one out of the town of Jacumba Hot Springs, population  561

The Missouri story is datelined Branson, Missouri, population 10,520, the self-proclaimed "live entertainment capital of the world." The headline for the Washington Post story is "Why a white town paid for a class called "Hispanics 101'," and it is fundamentally about a labor shortage in southwest Missouri, a region I've frequently written about, e.g., herehereherehere and here.  (It's a place of great interest to me because I grew up a little more than an hour away, in northwest Arkansas).   This Branson story, though by a different WaPo journalist, is somewhat similar in theme to this January report on a turkey processing plant in South Dakota recruiting Puerto Ricans to meet their labor needs.  The angle on Danielle Paquette's story out of Branson is that employers there are having to develop cultural sensitivity in order to recruit and retain Latinx workers, with a recent focus on those from Puerto Rico.  Here's an excerpt that explains that the economy depends on the success of the undertaking: 
As tourism season kicks off this month, the remote getaway known for dinner theaters, country music concerts and a museum of dinosaur replicas has 2,050 vacancies — and a lack of locals applying. 
So, like other areas with tight labor markets, Branson finds itself getting creative to fill jobs — in this case by recruiting people from a part of the United States with much higher unemployment.
But the plan to bring 1,000 workers from the island to overwhelmingly white, conservative Branson over the next three years has sparked unease, with critics saying that the newcomers will steal work from residents or drag down wages or bump up crime.
Paquette goes on to describe how desperate managers from Branson-area hotels, hospitals, hardware stores and banks have paid $50 each for the "Hispanic 101" workshop led by Miguel Joey Aviles.  Hilariously, Aviles is teaching his students--among other things--how to dance the merengue. 
Aviles advises bosses to check in often, ask about their mothers and request that grocery stores in the area sell plantains and Goya coconut water. 
“It’s not enough to invite them to the party,” Aviles said, twisting his body to the beat. “Bring them to the dance floor.”
Paquette goes on to focus on Branson's whiteness, with these details: 
[O]fficials acknowledge that some in the area, which is 92.4 percent white, are clinging to the past. Confederate flags adorn shop windows. A billboard outside town advertises “White Pride Radio.”

“We get nasty comments all the time,” said Heather Hardinger, programs director at the Taney County Partnership, which is working with the chamber on what it calls the “talent attraction” plan. 
States and companies from across the United States are competing for Puerto Rican workers, which had a jobless rate of nearly 11% in 2017, the highest in the nation. 

All of this highlights for me the gulf in understanding--broadly speaking--between California and Missouri, when it comes to the value--even necessity--of immigrant labor.  I'm also wondering how to bridge that gulf.  And I'm wondering--as I asked in that post back in early January--what happened to the good ol' working class whites who used to do jobs in places like Branson?  Have they succumbed to the meth (or other drug) epidemic (or here)?  gone soft?  moved to the city?  I'd like to know. 

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law

Friday, March 2, 2018

How rural students not attending college affects the rural lawyer shortage

Addressing the resource gap between rural and urban areas is going to largely depend on two possible outcomes: rural students deciding to return home after college graduation to work in their communities and rural communities attracting new migrants. The latter is already a challenge for many rural communities and as it turns out, the former is as well. As a recent NPR article notes (and Professor Pruitt covered here), it's a challenge because rural students are attending college at a rate lower than their peers in other locations. Only 59% of rural students pursue post-secondary education, a rate that lags behind urban and suburban communities, which send 62% and 69% of their students to college respectively.

The article goes on to mention that 48% of people between 18 and 24 are enrolled in higher education  but only 29% of rural people in that age range are enrolled. While the gap between the different geographies in terms people choosing to pursue higher education isn't that great, the low percentage of people that are enrolled points to a broader issue. I have no reputable study to confirm this theory but it would appear that rural students are remaining in and ultimately completing college at a far lower rate than their urban and suburban peers. This is also troubling.

As the NPR article notes and I've seen in other studies as well as anecdotally, a lot of rural students grow up in environments where their role models were able to make a living without a college education. Many of them may be unaware of the economic trends that have made a lot of these industries non-viable in the long term and may assume that they can pursue the same career with the same results. They may also see higher education and high status career as something that is unattainable for them, a fact particularly true in low-income communities. Of course, the rural lawyer shortage almost becomes a self-perpetuating cycle because many rural students may lack role models such as doctors or lawyers who can show them that these careers are possible.

Nebraska has realized the importance of addressing the rural lawyer shortage through taking steps to get rural students into classrooms. In 2016, the State of Nebraska created a scholarship program, the Rural Law Opportunities Program, which sends high achieving students to rural colleges in the state where upon completion (and obtaining a 3.5 GPA and a minimum LSAT score), they would earn a scholarship to the University of Nebraska Law.

In order to address the rural lawyer shortage, early intervention is sorely needed. Hopefully this data combined with the efforts already being undertaken in Nebraska can show the way to addressing this critical issue.