No, A Rising Tide Doesn’t Lift All Boats

About the people prosperity forgot

Life of Pi

It’s an article of faith among some people — politicians especially — that an improved economy benefits everyone. Emily Badger at the Washington Post collates some of the many iterations of this belief in her piece about growth without inclusion.

Grow the economy, [candidates] argue, and that will improve job prospects and living standards for everyone — the poor, the working class, minorities and other groups that have been left behind. Economic growth, they add, will achieve far more than any targeted program or government spending.

“The best anti-poverty program is economic growth,” Paul Ryan declared in the Wall Street Journal two years ago, as he was beginning to roll out his own poverty agenda.

“Economic growth is the key to everything,” offered Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Here’s Jeb Bush’s take, in arguing that 4 percent growth will create jobs enough for everyone: “So many challenges could be overcome if we just get this economy growing at full strength.”

Rand Paul insists that this logic will specifically lift up African Americans, who should reconsider “the Republican promise” for policies that boost economic growth.

Unfortunately, such statements are at odds with the facts.

Look across all 100 of these metros, and there’s only a weak relationship between economic growth and inclusion. Areas with rapid growth haven’t necessarily swept up the poor and working class. …

Sometimes — often — economic growth happens without broad benefits. And that means we have to actually be intentional in bringing everyone along.

She even quotes an analyst from DC’s independent Brookings Institute who agrees with her conclusions, and Brookings is hardly a think tank for wild-haired leftists. (The Heritage Foundation, though — I hear their parties are nuts.)

It makes sense to me. I live in one of the world’s most fabulously wealthy city, and that affluence is sometimes felt most keenly in the large swaths where it has no presence at all, in the neighborhoods that have been passed by. As the Atlantic points out:

Study after study has proven that when children are sequestered in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, their educational and economic opportunities are stunted, creating enduring cycles of poverty. … Of all the variables tested, growing up in concentrated poverty and growing up in an area that was predominately black were the strongest predictors of adult male unemployment.

Segregated neighborhoods — and segregated schools specifically, as one teacher persuasively argues— lead to segregated opportunities.

you’ve probably seen the images coming out of Detroit Public Schools: buckled floors, toilets without seats, roaches, mold and even mushrooms growing in damp, disgusting, mildewy classrooms. Like the images of American torture and abuse last decade in Abu Ghraib, these images should have shocked the nation. Instead, they elicited a collective national shrug, stretch and yawn.

The View from the Burbs is Sweet. Through white flight and suburbanization, wealthy and middle class families have completely insulated themselves from educational inequality. They send their kids to homogeneous schools and they do what it takes, politically at the local level, to ensure they’re well-funded, well-staffed, with opportunities for enrichment and exploration.

It also leads to a decrease in empathy, because we’re here and they’re there, and if they’re there, well, maybe “they” deserve to be.

Of course from a more privileged perch it can seem like a rising tide should, and so must, lift all boats. From way up here, you can’t pick out all the individuals who’re drowning.

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