About A Travelling Salesman

If you want to understand the question the Democratic Party needs to answer, go read the winning essay in the Shell/Economist essay contest.

The question asked was “Import workers or export jobs?”, and while the winner – writer Claudia O’Keefe – has no prescription, she does have a damn good diagnosis of the problem based on her personal history.

I’ve always seen The Economist as the most Establishment of all publications, reflecting a clear-eyed mixture of High Corporate and Top Government thinking. It pleases me to think that people like Ms. O’Keefe have made it onto their radar.

My stepfather was a salesman during the 1960s, traveling California and the American southwest in his big, hulking Buick, selling bras, slips, and girdles to small department stores and five-and-dimes. Whenever he returned from one of his two-week trips, he brought several lunch sacks full of torn price tags with him, evidence of product sold. My job was to sort and count the tags, at a nickel for every hundred I recorded.

We lived in a three-bedroom home in an upscale Los Angeles suburb, owned two cars, and took annual vacations. My brother, sister, and I never lacked any of the benefits of a middle-class upbringing, a new school wardrobe each year, copious Christmas presents, private lessons, even horses when we were older. In a medical emergency we worried more about how to get to a doctor quickly than we did about paying the bill. All of this was affordable on my dad’s one sales job without incurring vast amounts of debt.

These days the same lingerie lines my dad marketed are now sold primarily in Wal-Mart. Instead of being crafted in the U.S.A. by American workers they are manufactured almost exclusively in China. Gone are the traveling salesmen who ferried clothing to small town variety stores across the nation, and their buyers who used to decide which lines to stock. Most of the old independent retailers no longer exist. A handful of chains have replaced them, with buying decisions made at the corporate level. Jobs which comfortably supported a family have been eliminated in favor of new ones paying so little employees are encouraged to apply for food stamps.

Go read the whole thing.

As I said, she has no meaningful prescription, no policy to get us back to what she – along with millions of other frightened middle-class Americans – sorely misses. When the Democrats come up with a meaningful one, they’ll start standing for something.

25 thoughts on “About A Travelling Salesman”

  1. It seems to me that her lament is as meaningful as waxing poetic over the fact that most Americans no longer grow their own food and vegetables on the family farm, but instead buy them from a supermarket. That era is over, a new one has begun.

    Trying to regain the “charms” of the past when the world has changed due to radical changes in population and technology is impossible.

    No one will come up with a “solution” to how we can again live in 20th Century America. The global environment is the new reality. There will be people who come up with better ideas on how to move forward, but we aren’t going to find our way back to the past.

    It seems to me that the problem isn’t JUST that the Dems come to the table with only a diagnosis of the problem – but that people are looking to them to find solutions that will move us forward by recreating the past…the key word being “past”.

  2. I’m not convinced there’s actually a real problem here, AL. So there are no more travelling salesmen or little variety shops anymore. So what? There aren’t many buggy whip makers either, and Buicks are considerably less “hulking” than they were 40 years ago. I suppose fewer women today find employment as telephone operators–and fewer men as ditch-diggers–and nurses no longer wear those funny little hats except in porn.

    Yet somehow, even though our sturdy and demure domestic underwear has been replaced by cheap, filmy, and shockingly immoral Chinese lingere (I blame a sinister Communist conspiracy to make the West debauched and therefore weak), the average American’s standard of living has improved. It’s not like all the people who would have been foundation-garments salesmen are unemployed or have been forced to take minimum-wage cashier jobs; they have jobs as corporate buyers for Victoria’s Secret, IT support people for Hanes, and marketing managers for Nordstrom.

    My great-grandfater hand-made shotguns for Sears’ mail-order business. My grandfater was an electrical engineer when vacuum tubes were considered an experimental technology. My father studied economics when the slide-rule industry was a going concern. I enrolled in college when Netcape 1.0 was the latest thing and online retailing consisted of a single highly experimental sie called “Condom Country.” Times change. I’m glad they do.

  3. After reading the winning essay by Claudia O’Keefe there are a few things that stand out that I believe need some sort of explanation. Since I work with clients on daily basis I understand their approval and happiness is of utmost concern when it comes to securing my job. Given that I also understand that it is imperative that I explain to potential and current clients exactly what it is they are buying into. If one hasn’t experienced the wrath from clients concerning client expectations versus actual deliverable just suffice to say it can be an eye opening experience. That said:

    1) What is the American Dream? Is it a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot? In my book it’s much more than that but none the less it needs to be quantified and qualified as succinctly as possible.

    2) What is the Global Dream that Claudia O’Keefe speaks of? Is it a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot for everyone on the globe?

    From an economic stand point I can understand the driving forces that leads to cost saving and higher profits and I adamantly believe that a markets will adjust to economies of scale and that which the multitude of buyers can bear. (I.E. Will you take a quarter for that slip?) At this point one of two things has to occur either the slip must come down in price (lower costs for manufacture) or the wage must go up to bear the price. Claudia could have been living in NYC and priced the slip at $150. Would it have made any difference? Probably not her booth costs would have been more.

    As we traverse the globe in search of market stability of cost and profits it is not difficult to understand why manufactures move to their locations of choice. It is also reasonable to expect that they will continue to do so. As the locations they enjoy now become cost prohibitive they will eventually move to other areas more favorable for their business. Is it unreasonable to expect that the possibility of companies moving to Somalia in the future might not occur. Given the right conditions and a stable environment I would say yes. Where will China be then?

    Claudia does bring up an important point though. As her father moved from traveling salesman to real estate broker she does have first hand knowledge in lessons of adaptability. She doesn’t go into how he accomplished it but one must certainly assume that if he could do it she can as well.

    Claudia also makes a point of not knowing what it is she should be looking for as an alternative to writing fiction (which isn’t selling). (Try telling that to a host of authors who have made their names in writing fiction and are doing very well.) The issue here is regardless of which way she turns it sounds as though she would be unhappy because she can’t make a living writing fiction. In pursuit of the same goals as a corporate institution (profit increase) she did the same thing a corporation would do, which is move. Personally I’m not an advocate of some one telling me I should be a garbage collector because they make good money and no matter where you go the requirement for garbage collectors will always be there.

  4. Guys, the issue isn’t the decline in job opportunities for travelling lingerie salesmen in the 21st Century; it’s the difficulty the median worker will have in attaining anything close to the post-WWII lifestyle – a home, a car, health care, college for their kids.

    And yes, Claudia’s situation is complex because she’s a BoBo who wants to work for nonprofits and be a novelist. But how different would it be if she was a typical liberal arts college graduate with $50,000 in student loans? What jobs are there in this economy for her and her cohorts that connect them to that middle-class ideal?

    Some, but a lot less than there were and more than there will be tomorrow.

    A.L.

  5. What jobs are there in this economy for her and her cohorts that connect them to that middle-class ideal?

    What reason is there to believe that these jobs somehow don’t exist? The world still needs entry-level admin workers, mortgage specialists, real-estate agents, life-insurance salesmen, retail managers, etc etc. That’s what most of my friends with degrees in usless subjects are doing (those that aren’t in graduate or professional school), 5 or so years out of college. (Those with engineering or CS degrees are doing better). It’s not glamorous, but they all have decent apartments and decent cars, more cloting and beer than they really need, and the ability, if not the inclination, to save for retirement.

    Anecdotal, to be sure. But a larger sample size than one. Why, exactly, do you believe that these sorts of jobs are disappearing?

  6. bq. _”But how different would it be if she was a typical liberal arts college graduate with $50,000 in student loans?”_

    Would you call this money well spent? It all depends on what she invested her future $50,000 on now doesn’t it? Do we blame the college for offering basket weaving 101 when people want to spend their money on that? Do we blame the college for making humanities / political sciences / health education courses a requisite for graduation? Of all the courses one takes how many are an absolute requisite for entry into the job market?

    bq. _”What jobs are there in this economy for her and her cohorts that connect them to that middle-class ideal?”_

    Are we talking about the American Dream or are we talking about middle-class status? Do you equate them as one and the same?

  7. My family was similar to Claudia O’Keefe’s — not travelling salesmen, but a small department store and a small chain of independent women’s clothing stores.

    When I think back on it now, the department store amazes me. It opened in 1900 and was in the same building until about 1975 with only minor expansions. The total square footage was somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet (compared to 100,000-200,000 sq feet for a Walmart). Yet several families–my grandfather, his brothers, and many of their children worked in the store (along with my father, who was in the same generation but married into the family). When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, from just that one store, the first generation and several of the second generation families lived upper-middle-class, golfing-at-the-country-club lives.

    How was that possible? It was possible because it was not a competitve marketplace. The retail price was twice the wholesale price, there were sales only at ‘authorized’ times of year, and none of the competing merchants undercut the prices because the manufacturers refused to sell their goods to discounters. So a basic pair of Levis came in at, say $7.50 wholesale, sold for $15.00 and, being a staple item, pretty much never went on sale. We’re talking, say, 1972 dollars. So a basic pair of Levis in today’s dollars would be around $75 (or around 3 times as much as I usually pay now).

    THAT’s how a travelling salesman selling bras could support a family in an upper-middle-class lifestyle — the lower middle class people has to buy Levis at $75 a pair. It worked great for the people selling the Levis–not so much for the poorer people buying ‘em.

  8. Change is hard. Statis is easy (well, easier). My father did 30+ years in GM management, and retired. I’ve been through three careers at age 50, and I doubt I’m finished. No blot on him – he raised five kids (with only one car) – but times have changed, and won’t go back.

    The article is the story of an articulate woman who deliberately flew her income prospects into the ground, and ended up in a trap. Someone should have explained the concept of ‘day job’ a few years back.

    Bringing me to my point: How do we educate for adaptability? In the past, we built an educational system to train for jobs that would be a career. That’s gone forever. Now young people need solid basic skills and the self-auditing ability to follow their abilities and interests into niches as they open, and abandon them as they close.

    And to come round to A.L.’s final point: When will the Democratic party get itself out of hock to the NEA, that seeks to evade all accountability for the educational system of the past, let alone proactively working on one for the future? Fighting over accountability mandates from NCLB is a rear guard action – conservative, one might almost say. Perhaps, if the funding and volunteer resources innovated by the Deanies are viable, the D’s may be able to get free of the union constraint, and reinvent a progressive, sustainable educational policy. Trying to invent a sustainable economic future for the next generation without such a policy is only self-delusion.

  9. Yeah, come on. I’m a lower class kiddie that’s working up through the middle class, with three kids and a wife who works part time at home. Also, I don’t have to travel for work, so I have much more family time than travelling salesmen ever have.

    Both of us are paying down approx. $20,000 each in student loan debt, a little car debt, and a big ol’ mortgage.

    Here’s the answer: Public and community colleges/part-time jobs in school/industriousness/creativity/flexibility. Oh, yeah, and do a better job paying attention to your own kids than even your parents did (regardless of how well or poorly they did at that task).

    American Dream: Mission Accomplished.

  10. Two thoughts on why most of the comments are missing the point.

    The first is the economic consequences of feminism and two-career families. The supply of workers went up, and one consequence is that a single-earner families are now competing lifestyle-wise with two-earner families, and aren’t likely to win. Sure, if the single earner is a stockbroker, but the truth is that the sort of mid-range job like traveling salesman won’t support a mid-range lifestyle, if it’s the only income.

    The second point is that the American middle class is getting killed by the variance. Economic disruption through long-term unemployment, catastrophic illness, and the like seems to be up, way up. Retirement security with employer-provided pensions is vanishing (and of course the Republicans want to convert Social Security to the same your-on-your-own model). Rob Lyman is looking five years’ post-college. Way off. You need to be looking a people with kids in school, mortgage payments, community roots, maybe parents of their own needed some help: twenty years out of college would be more like it. Do those entry-level jobs that keep singletons in beer work for the responsibities of middle age? Not so clear to me.

  11. Andrew L. mentions two-income families but ignores one other distortion in the current labor market: the baby boomer bulge. Absorbing the boomer men into the job market would have been hard enough, given the propensity of very large generations to have fewer kids per couple in the succeeding generation. Add in women and it gets harder. Now add structural changes due to technology, especially information technologies, and market mechanisms work even faster. There are few lifelong jobs around now because the nature of work is changing so fast.

    At the same time, consumer expectations have risen as well and that’s part of the problem too. Look at the McMansion phenomenon. How many families are living beneath their income level and saving part of whatever money they do have? An awful lot of people did in the 50s. How many people carry lunch to work rather than pay a lot more at the local deli? My husband does and I try to do so at least some of the time.

    I’m not making light of real hardships that can result from structural changes in the economy and in the job market. I know people caught in them. Some are close relatives. Moreover I grew up in a blue collar family that was pushed to the edge financially more than once.

    But I also think that in the last two-three decades many Americans developed inflated expectations which led to improvident lifestyles. And that’s another factor in the squeezing of the middle class.

    Tim Oren’s point about educating for adaptability, based on solid key skills in math, language and analytics of various kinds, is an important part of the deeper solution to the changes in the global marketplace.

  12. bq. _”The first is the economic consequences of feminism and two-career families.”_

    I’m not buying it. How do spinsters survive? It certainly wasn’t feminism that saved their bacon.

    bq. _”The supply of workers went up, and one consequence is that a single-earner families are now competing lifestyle-wise with two-earner families, and aren’t likely to win.”_

    Again I’m not buying it. Regardless of a dual income family or not. The decision for both or one to work is strictly a family decision. Secondly, family life and sharing the burden of supporting the family is a consensus of individuals and not a mandate or right granted by the state or any form of government. Lastly, it doesn’t take a family to form this type of agreement. Business partners do it all the time. They equally assume the risks of failure or success.

    To be clear from the day you are born till the day you die you will continually incur the risks of life. Good times and bad, sickness and health, pauper or wealthy it makes no difference. The people who understand this better than any one else are those that gamble for a living. Eating caviar on Monday and dining on handouts come Friday makes not one bit of difference to a gambler. Sure one situation is better than the other but neither comes with a guarantee. As for company security. A company can no more afford to pay you a pension when it is not solvent than it can make you secure in believing it will remain so for eternity.

    As to the issue of social security I’ve spoken about it before. If the administrators want to bring up the topic for discussion again I’m game.

  13. AJL,

    A couple of points:

    Entry-level jobs become middle-management and perhaps senior management jobs as we move from 5 years to 20 years out. If you work hard enough to gain experience (and work hard at whatever you do, even if you don’t like it), you can keep yourself valuable to someone. This applies to non-college graduates, too: the manager of your local auto-parts store is probably a non-college grad who started at the cash register. So no, an entry-level job won’t pay for your kids’ college, but it won’t have to.

    It also doesn’t make sense to me to talk about families “competing,” lifestyle-wise. If your priority is to have the latest shoes and a brand-new car, more power to you–but don’t expect much in the way of sympathy from me when you drown in debt. A “lower tier” lifestyle isn’t exactly deprived in this day and age.

    Furthermore, an amazing amount can be accomplished on very little money if it is reasonably managed; I’ve never not owned my own home, never carried debt other than a mortgage for more than a couple of months, never not had health insurance, life insurance, and auto insurance, and my wife and I have always put away 20% of our income for retirement starting when we were 22 (screw employer pensions and social security), when I was a grad student and she was (roughly speaking) a secretary. We have cheap furniture, I do almost all the repairs on our cars and home, and we eat out no more than twice in a month (and then it’s someplace inexpensive). I have a MS in Physics and I cheefully drove a truck for a few months when I coundn’t find other work.

    I have everything I need and probably 90% of what I want. It’s often hard work–wish I could hire a maid, a mechanic, buy a snowblower instead of shovelling by hand, eat at nice restaurants and buy choice cuts of meat, and spend my weekends goofing off instead of doing chores, but I expect that those days will come someday. For now I do what I have to do, and I frankly expect the same of others–even wanna-be novelists. Hey, I’d like to hunt turkeys and flirt with college girls professionally, but you don’t see me whining about having to confine my hobbies to my free time.

  14. Rob, with due respect, you’re not ‘average’ in any way. The average person is less resourceful than you are; the issue from a policy point of view is both how we shape an economy (and like it or not kids, the government does shape the economy through regulation and a host of other touchpoints) that incents people to be more resourceful and provides more opportunities for the people who aren’t in the 95th percentile…

    A.L.

  15. Maybe not, AL; I’m not in a position to say. But the truth is, I’ve never held a truly high-paying job (that will change this summer), so up until now my “percentile” hasn’t made a difference to me financially unless you think a good LSAT score leads one to value saving and good risk management (which, I observe looking around me, isn’t the case). Also, I married early and well–not a rich girl, but a smart one.

    I think sensible financial and career management comes more from one’s upbringing than from anywhere else, and “below average” folks are certinly up to it. Work ethic, prudence, patience, sense of duty. You don’t need a fancy degree to have them. And if you lack those fundamentals, no government intervention can save you.

  16. Before drawing any larger conclusion out of the essay perhaps we should focus on Ms. O’Kefee’s personal story:

    “A decade ago I was a published writer with a promising career in fiction. Fiction publishing at that time was in the midst of a corporate sea change devastating to authors of the type of books I wrote. Not only wasn’t pay increasing, fewer and fewer books were being bought. Not wanting to give up a career that was my whole life, I sought to adjust to my shrinking income by progressively relocating to areas of the country with cheaper and cheaper costs of living. I moved from pricey California to a slightly less expensive northern New Mexico to Florida, rural Virginia, and finally, with my money gone, any momentum I’d once had long expended, and all contacts evaporated, I came to a disgruntled rest four years ago in West Virginia.”

    I do not mean to be critical, but but it seems to me that she might better have used her time and energy working on her craft or changing careers, simply trying to adapt to failure by lowering one’s expenses has to be a sub optimal strategy.

  17. I agree, Robert. Moving to lower-cost parts of the country is a passive strategy – it’s a way of waiting for a miracle to somehow happen rather than taking charge of her own life.

    AJL, I think you miss Rob Lyman’s point. He and his wife saved on modest salaries. They chose to invest hard work to avoid debt. They took whatever jobs could be found and they leveraged off of that.

    Unusual? I know lots of blue collar workers who live that way. A friend’s daughter didn’t much care for school … after one semester at college she left and later earned the appropriate license and drove big trucks for a while, saved most of the money she earned. She’s now a manager at a health services firm and is considering going back to school part time at age 32 to get a degree.

    My sister left college in her junior year with significant loan debt. Married and had a kid, started over, earned an associate degree in early childhood education (one course at a time while working in a pizza restaurant), worked for peanuts and partial health care insurance as a day care teacher, continued to work on her bachelor’s degree (one course at a time while working) and now runs a day care center and gives talks and seminars about various aspects of curriculum development.

    My younger brother developed cancer just after he left school with a wife and a kid. The diagnosis came one week before he was due to start a job with good benefits. He was fortunate – several oncologists and hospitals donated some of his health care. My dad – retired blue collar worker whose modest house wasn’t paid off yet – had cosigned bro’s school loans. Others in the family pitched in to help with the payments while bro reluctantly filed for bankruptcy. At one point my brother’s white blood cell count was down to 1 – essentially he had no immune system for a while. Today he and his wife have paid off their debts, bought a townhouse and he earned a bachelor’s degree (one course at a time) in a new field.

    Unusual? 95th percentile? Certainly not, in terms of money or connections or clear ambition. We were fortunate, though, in that we grew up in a family where we weren’t encouraged to rely on others to make our way. You can manage the economy all you like, but motivation, character and a willingness to work hard start within, not at the Federal Reserve.

  18. That said, I was and am grateful for some opportunities and help I’ve gotten along the way. Primary were scholarships (based on grades) and loans to go to a good private college.

    Still, it didn’t come free — my dad and stepmom mortgaged their modest home twice to pay their portion of the costs, one reason they were still paying on a mortgage when younger brother faced aggressive cancer when he’d just turned 21. I’m incredibly grateful for their support … they could easily have insisted I go to the local state school.

    OTOH I did my part too. I worked a student aid job, worked in sewing factories during the summer and for a while cleaned homes as well worked the student aid job while carrying a full load of classes. And unlike a lot of people in my generation, I paid back every cent of my loans. And then I worked my way through both of my graduate degrees while raising a kid and moving around due to my husband’s military career.

    I’m in favor of a modest social safety net and selected programs that provide an opportunity for those who want to better their lives. Similar programs made a big difference in my life and I’m happy to contribute to the same for others.

    What I’m not in favor of – because they do more harm than good – are programs that encourage passive dependence. The ‘entitlement’ mentality is a huge barrier for those who feel entitled to benefits from society.

  19. One final point (yeah, sure lady – ed): I and the siblings I mentioned all stayed married to their first spouse. That took work, commitment and sometimes courage.

    But without that, none of us could have made the progress we did. And did I mention my sister’s kids? My niece went through a small private Catholic college on athletic scholarships and coaching assistantships (soccer and basketball). She got married just after graduating and both of them are living in a modest apartment while commuting to master’s degree work at different schools and continuing to hold down assistantships.

    My nephew looks like he’s heading for law school. He played soccer on a team that was invited to compete in Europe last year and Martha went along as a parent chaperone – her first trip outside the country, for which she paid her own way.

    Apart from a cousin who went to college on a baseball scholarship, we weren’t and aren’t a particularly athletic family. Nobody famous or influential or wealthy and we have our share of those who aren’t achieving all that much. But we don’t have anyone who isn’t working and pulling their weight as best they can.

    Martha made sure her kids were active in whatever free sports she could arrange and she eked out the tuition costs to send her kids to parochial school so they’d learn in a structured environment that valued discipline and accountability. That, plus her own example and their father’s hard work, was enough to get them off on the right foot too.

    Can you tell I’m proud of her and them? (smile)

  20. bq. _”Rob, with due respect, you’re not ‘average’ in any way. The average person is less resourceful than you are…..”_

    Then I guess that makes two of us that are not average. Like Rob I’ve done basically the same thing. I started mowing lawns when I was 12 and have had money in my pocket ever since.

    From mowing lawns, bagging groceries, working in a car wash, washing catering trucks, making the sandwiches that the were sold off the catering trucks, driving a catering truck, doing carpentry, serving in the Marine Corps and finally ending up as an IT specialist. I was on my own by the age of 17 and didn’t marry till I was 22.

    Like Rob along the way I’ve managed, incur debt for major purchases cars and mortgages, raise four kids, and still put money away for retirement. Yes it has meant carrying a lunch to work, doing without excessive entertainment, shopping at K-Mart, repairing my own home when necessary, tending cars such as changing the oil and simple maintenance, hard work and fewer vacations. The wife and I have managed to carry the burdens of life paying for life insurance, home insurance, health insurance etc. and saving money for our retirement. To suggest Rob or I am above average is pure poppy cock.

    I’ll agree that government does play a role in our economic well being as a nation and to some extent even has their hand in the economic well being of the individual (minimum wage) all this and more for the tidy sum in taxes it collects which the wife and I dutifully pay every year. When I hit line 28 on Schedule A I cringe. I’m forced to pay much higher taxes because according to our government I make more than my fair share and therefore I shouldn’t be able to keep all of my deductions. I’ve prepared my own taxes since I was 16. I see no point in paying some one to do my taxes for me because I cant even take the deduction. Child care credit is another joke. Not once was I able to take the entire deduction for child care. Health savings plans are just as bad. Stuff money in an account for personal and family health care only to find out if you don’t use it all the government gets to keep the difference. Now I’m not keen on someone else managing my personal finances least of all our government but to suggest that the majority of this nation is too dumb to manage on their own only points out a much bigger issue. An issue which is one of individual resourcefulness and a government gone haywire in attempts to level a playing field.

    I’ll admit my life has not been a bed of roses nor have I expected it to be one or much less felt as though I was owed one. I’ve had more than my share of set backs, disappointments and just plain doldrums. Having lived from pay check to pay check at certain times only strengthened my resolve to not let in happen again. I graduated from high school, have some college (no degree) and still I mange to live a comfortable life.

  21. Others in the family pitched in to help with the payments while bro reluctantly filed for bankruptcy.

    How well would the family have recovered under the new Republican bankruptcy bill?

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to succeed, especially people who are intelligent and have good family connections (e.g., who can serve as a financial backstop), but the evidence suggests that it isn’t as commonplace as it used to be. Maybe more of Rob’s entry-level jobs don’t get promoted, or maybe the people in those mid-level jobs are more likely to be laid off than before.

  22. USMC: Actually, the “forces that leads to cost saving” just as often lead, not to higher profits, but rather lower prices. Consumer is king in retail, after all, and nobody at Walmart ever put a gun to a customer’s head and forced them to stop shopping at “Main Street.”

    AL: The cost of immediate-post-WWII health care is pretty darn affordable for even the poorest among us. The problem is, nobody is satisfied with that level of care any more! Nor is it even offered–any doctor who did only what was done in 1948 would lose his license and probably be subject to criminal proceedings, too. This is not to say that many don’t have a precarious existence, economically, but merely to remind us that the standard they strive to attain is vastly higher than it was is those 2 ~ 3 bedroom/1 bath, 1 car, no TV, doctors-making-house-calls- but-standing-idly-watching-you-die-of-congestive-heart-failure* days.

    (*Think Keynes.)

  23. bq. _”I’m not saying it’s impossible to succeed, especially people who are intelligent and have good family connections (e.g., who can serve as a financial backstop), but the evidence suggests that it isn’t as commonplace as it used to be.”_

    Pray tell how did the people of this earth get here. It certainly wasn’t without the potential of a family unit. I’ll grant you there are hardships and things in life don’t work out the way we all want them to. Orphans are part of this world as well and are not the object of my complaint. You have however hit on an issue which is part of the problem. That being the destruction of the core family. IMO for all the good intentions of government it has done more to undermine the solidarity of family than promote it. Our educational facilities concerning this matter have faired even worse.

  24. I’m not saying it’s impossible to succeed, especially people who are intelligent and have good family connections (e.g., who can serve as a financial backstop),

    True enough. But bear in mind that in my family’s case those family connections consisted of hourly wage earners. We’re not talking professionally-employed parents who can pay mortgage payments for their kids or trust funds from grandparents. We’re talking people who took that money out of tight budgets or small savings accounts.

    Do it entirely alone? Much harder. It will take determination, hard work, some luck and often a break from those who notice and appreciate that determination and hard work.

    Do it as a single parent? Well, one question is why you are in that position to begin with. Spouses do die, and sometimes divorce is the best option — but far less often than has become the practice of late. And as for those who choose to bear / raise a child alone from the start, most people IMO lack the resources to do that responsibly — and those resources go WAY beyond money.

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