Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Social Media: The Great Divide

Many issues divide us here in the US: Baseball/football, paper/plastic, TP from the top/TP from the bottom.

A phenomenon is growing within the realm of social media that is serving to widen the divide.  Political and social memes are running rampant, ripping away at fellow citizens, berating those less fortunate or who embrace a different belief system, and making insulting blanket statements about entire classes of human beings.

Ironic that the intent of those who developed services like Twitter and Facebook was to bring people together.

One of the most popular memes is against those who receive government assistance.  A brief anecdote and some history - my Grandfather was a WWII veteran.  He survived Pearl Harbor and went on to receive a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat.  In the 1970s, he and my Grandmother fell on hard times, and for a period, were forced to accept government help.  The day he applied, he cried.  He never thought he'd need it.  At the same time, he was thankful to have it, and our family survived.

That was an era when upward mobility was common.  Income disparity was relatively low.  Today, as the ultra rich get even richer, and middle and working class Americans (remember that collective word, Americans?) founder, the subject of income equality deserves a peek within the context of our history.

It's not a simple issue.  The current status of inequity in America (among the highest in the world) has a variety of causes.
...the U.S. still stands out as a developed economy with such a great divide between rich and poor. The reasons behind its weak showing on the global stage are many and experts differ over which factors predominate.

Technology has contributed to the growing gap. As
jobs require greater skills, it's harder for those with just a high school diploma to land good-paying employment. A college degree has become a requirement for more lucrative positions.

At the same time, increased globalization is
squeezing the middle class. Many companies are outsourcing jobs to other countries where workers are paid less. Also, other nations produce goods at cheaper prices so fewer U.S. firms are making items here. Hence, there are fewer opportunities to make a decent wage.

And what's unique to the United States is the relative lack of government support compared to Europe and Canada. Other countries provide more public services, including health insurance, higher education, daycare and pensions. And these benefits are provided on a more universal basis, rather than being dependent on one's income level, as in the United States.

"The U.S. government has done far less to address inequality in American society than any other of the rich countries," said Frederick Solt, an assistant political science professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Other factors also play a role in the widening divide in America.

Low-skilled immigrants to the U.S. increase the competition for low-wage jobs, said Lane Kenworthy, a sociology professor at the University of Arizona. This allows employers to keep a lid on wages.

At the same time, unions are losing their strength on this side of the pond, while they've retained more of their clout in Western Europe. Experts cite the decline of U.S. unions as one cause behind
falling middle-class incomes.
Productivity has far outpaced pay in America.  Workers produce more, and earn less, than any time in recent history.  Profits have been assigned a higher importance than people.

I would add that our tax code serves to widen the gap, as large companies are recipients of incredibly fraudulent 'welfare' benefits, but that subject, and congressional corruption in general, deserves its own essay.

Back to my original point.  Social media, rather than the relative privacy of email, has become the clearing house for disparaging remarks about, among other groups, those who have been forced to turn to government aid to make ends meet.  Given the ability to 'hide' the offensive material, I suppose it's a positive change.

As a percentage, fraud and abuse of government assistance is low, and examples are generally anecdotal, so I wonder what purpose it serves to trot out these offensive clichés.  It certainly doesn't build any bridges, and those who are abusing the system probably aren't Facebook friends.  It serves mostly to boost the self-image and self-importance of the poster, I suppose.  For the rest of us, those who indulge those posts in our news feeds, it provides a peek into troubled minds.

If Grandpa were alive today, he would not approve.

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