All posts by bhuerster

Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty.

I have often thought that the affluence experienced in the U.S. after the Second World War was an historic anomaly that raised people’s expectations to a very high level. As international economic trends impact our economy, there are far fewer opportunities for young people to move up the economic ladder. This is a somewhat simplified, abstract view of trends impacting young Americans. Jennifer Silva of Harvard university has written a book in which she describes in detail the impact these trends are having on the lives of one hundred young people from working class backgrounds.

In the 8/19/13 edition of OnPoint from WBUR in Boston, host Tom Ashbrook talks to Ms Silva about her book “Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty.” The young people she interviewed are trying to attain some of the goals
traditionally associated with growing into adulthood in America: graduating from college, launching a career, settling down in a long-term committed relationship (traditionally marriage), having a family, and owning a home. We have all heard about  children of blue-collar workers who went to college and moved up the economic and social ladder, and many of us followed this path ourselves. The road to this kind of advancement used to be a wide highway, with room for lots of young people. Today, thanks in large part to changes in the economy, this journey has to be made on a much narrower path, and to travel it
successfully you often need guidance, such as advice and support (financial and/or emotional) from family, and maybe a referral from a connected family friend or concerned teacher or member of the clergy. This kind of help wasn’t there for many of the young people Ms Silva interviewed, and she suggests that their experience is widespread.

As I listened to this discussion, including points made by people who called in to make comments, I thought about my own experience and that of friends who moved up the ladder compared to their parents. We worked hard, and hard work has many benefits besides earning money: it gives you a sense of accomplishment, and control of your destiny. Hard work is especially rewarding and beneficial if it leads to a better future. For many of us who moved up the ladder, there were opportunities and helping hands along the way that aren’t there for many young people today. Hopefully Ms. Silva’s book will raise awareness of this problem and lead to some solutions, possibly giving some working class kids perspective and knowledge that will help them navigate the narrowing path to “success,” or even redefine it in a way that works for them.

Visit this URl to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2013/08/19/changing-american-dream

Is Jeff Bezos a Threat or a Savior to Journalism?

The 8/13/13 edition of “To the Point,” hosted by Warren Olney on kcrw.com, focuses on the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. His guests are Nick Wingfield of the New York Times, John Harris of Politico, Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher, and Steven Waldman of Daily Bridge Media. Among other topics, Mr. Olney and his guests speculate about whether Mr. Bezos can find a way to make traditional news profitable again. Many interesting points were made in this discussion. Mr. Waldman of Daily Bridge Media notes that while the “tyranny of short term thinking” played a role in the inability of traditional media to adapt to the digital age, Mr. Bezos has a record of investing in innovations that pay off in the long run, and that he might bring this approach to the Washington Post. Mr. Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher disagreed with this view, arguing that it wasn’t a matter of short term thinking on the part of newspapers, but rather that they were in the path of a disruptive technology. 

I raised a few of the points that I found particularly interesting in this discussion, visit this URL to listen to the entire discussion:

http://www.kcrw.com/news/programs/tp/tp130813is_jeff_bezos_a_thre

Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War Two

In the 7/24/13 edition of Fresh Air, host Terry Gross interviews Keith Lowe, author of the book “Savage Continent,” about conditions in Europe in the aftermath of World War Two. My mother’s cousin was stationed in Germany after serving in the Pacific in World War Two and he told me stories about renting a whole house on an enlisted man’s pay because the Germans were so poor. An American friend who has lived in Germany for several years also related a conversation she had with an elderly German woman once who told her about difficulties she faced after the war. My friend, a longtime vegetarian, said that the woman evoked the experience of extreme hunger so vividly that her story even made meat seem appealing. These stories pale compared to Mr. Lowe’s description of the physical devastation caused by the war, as well as the tragic conditions people had to endure, including extreme poverty, widespread sexual violence against women, and persecution of ethnic minorities.

I found this interview particularly illuminating because my knowledge of the war focused almost exclusively on the conflict itself. Most of the books I have read or movies I have seen dealt the war, not its aftermath.

visit this URL to listen to the interview or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://www.npr.org/2013/07/24/204538728/after-wwii-europe-was-a-savage-continent-of-devastation