A Country of Have-Nots?

November 12, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

At a Republican fundraiser in 2000 where the minium buy-in was $800, George W. Bush referred to those in attendance as “the haves and the have-mores.”

Talk about “the haves and the have-nots” – the phrase Bush was alluding to – seemed old-fashioned at the time. To my ear, the terms sound like something out of the Depression. But the concept of haves and have-nots is making a comeback. The perception of inequality may be catching up to the reality.

In 1998, more than 70% of the US population rejected the idea that the country was divided between the haves and the have-nots. Today, as many people agree with that proposition as disagree (numbers are from the Gallup poll).

My first impulse is to trace it all to Bush– to see the shift as the chickens of false consciousness finally coming home to roost. After all, Bush did refer to the have-mores as “my base,” and his policies have rewarded them handsomely. But as the chart shows, the largest part of the change in perception was happening in the 1990s.

Along with their perception of an economically divided country, more Americans see themselves as being on the wrong side of the divide. (Numbers are from a recent Pew survey.)
In 1998, even among those in the lower third of the income distribution, 42% saw themselves as being among the “haves.” That percentage has since declined, of course, but so has the percentage of self-perceived “haves” in the middle and upper thirds of the distribution. That middle-group is especially interesting, with the percent thinking of themselves as among the “haves” declining from 61% to 43%.

Politically, this shift in perceptions would seem to work for the Democrats, who are more likely to be seen as the party for the have-nots. It’s certainly what John Edwards has been saying in his “two Americas” speeches. To counter the idea of a divided country, the Republicans seem to be relying on the unifying force of an external enemy. If we see ourselves as under attack from outside evildoers, terrorists, Islamofascists, et. al., we will have to rally together and ignore or deny internal divisions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting how people are groping toward an understanding of the US as a class society. What's underpinning this changing consciousness? Is it because Bush's administration is unashamedly an openly corporate-friendly and rich-friendly government? Are Americans getting fed up with increasing casualisation and deindustrialisation? Would love to know more.