Other Things Some Older People are Thinking and Need to Say Out Loud

Other Things Some Older People are Thinking and Need to Say Out Loud

                       —by Jinny Batterson

This spring, as the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign began heating up, I came across an interview with the daughter of former third party presidential candidate George Wallace of Alabama, most famously noted for having said in 1963, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” In late April, Peggy Wallace Kennedy suggested as part of a radio interview that the 1968 third party presidential candidacy of her late father has echoes in the current campaign.

“Trump and my father say out loud what others are thinking but don’t have the courage to say. They both were able to adopt the notion that fear and hate are the two greatest motivators of voters that feel alienated from government,” she remarked.  Much of what Mr. Trump has had to say so far strikes me as racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, jingoistic, reactionary, or all of the above.

It occurs to me on the eve of the 2016 political conventions that both this year’s major party presumptive nominees are my close contemporaries—we are “leading edge boomers,” over a decade older than our current president. Donald Trump (born in June, 1946) and Hillary Clinton (born in October, 1947) are within a year of my age. So here are a few things that I remember from our mutual early adulthoods in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, compared with our current situation. Candidates may remember them, too, even though they are generally not saying them out loud.

Work: In 1970, about 80 percent of working age men were in the paid labor force, nearly twice the rate of working age women. Since then, that gap has declined significantly. It’s estimated that by 2020, the proportions will be roughly 70% for men and 60% for women. The gender pay gap has also declined, though women’s wages have yet to reach parity with men’s for comparable jobs—an estimate in 2015 put women’s average earnings, across all occupations and wage levels, at roughly 82% of men’s. Wages for all workers, adjusted for inflation, have stagnated since the mid-1970’s.

The number of American manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979, when roughly 19.5 million workers were employed in the manufacturing sector. In 2016, roughly 12.3 million Americans (about 8% of the overall labor force) work in manufacturing. Some manufacturing job losses are the result of outsourcing to lower wage countries; many previous manufacturing jobs have been automated out of existence.

Some segments of the economy, dominant in earlier phases of American history, were at much lower levels by 2014, according to labor statistics: agriculture/forestry/fishing employed less than 1.5% of the workforce; construction accounted for just over 4%; mining only about half a percent. The fastest growing sector is health care/social assistance, which now accounts for about 12% of the labor force.  Professional/business services jobs (12.7%) are also increasing rapidly.

Immigration: The proportion of foreign-born residents in the American population hit an all-time low at the 1970 census. Just 4.7% of Americans then were foreign born.  Both numbers and proportions of foreign-born legal U.S. residents have increased dramatically since then, reaching an estimated 13.3% in 2014. The number of additional undocumented residents is in the range of 10 to 12 million, with an immigration system that nearly all agree is badly flawed.

Military: A military draft in force from 1948 through 1973 affected men aged 19 through 26.  In 1969 and 1970, during the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, about half a million Americans served in that country each year, many of them draftees. In late 1969, a birthday-related draft lottery was reinitiated to reduce the uncertainty for eligible young men. With about 850,000 potential draftees to be called up starting in 1970, those with low lottery numbers would be nearly certain to get drafted, while those with high numbers could resume their lives free of worry about military conscription. The draft was ended in 1973.

Active duty military personnel declined in numbers and as a proportion of the population as the Vietnam War and later the Cold War wound down. The post-World-War-II number of U.S. soldiers peaked in 1968 at about 3.5 million. Its current level is about 1.35 million, or less than half a percent of the total U.S. population. About 150,000 troops are stationed outside the U.S.

Some other areas in which substantial changes have occurred since the late 1960’s: Race Relations: major urban riots in 110 U.S. cities following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. led to better, if sometimes spotty, enforcement of the1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act; increasing numbers of minority voters and elected officials;  Environment: major periodic oil spills; Earth Day; establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency; recognition of global climate change as an issue; Women’s Rights: the Equal Rights Amendment debate; affirmation via the 1973 Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision of a woman’s right, within limits, to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy; Media: from 3 commercial networks plus PBS and NPR to an Internet-laced selection of nearly infinite numbers of channels and viewpoints, many of them unsubstantiated; Political Culture:  increasing frustration with widening wealth and income gaps; lessening civility; splintering of some conventional voting blocs; extensive gerrymandering and attempts at voter suppression.

I’ll likely watch some coverage of both conventions, listening closely to what candidates actually have to say. Improvements in Americans’ lives since I was young have been substantial, but uneven, with periodic backsliding. Much more can be done, but it’s unlikely to take place in an atmosphere of fear and hatred. Much will depend not on the candidates, but on citizens’ willingness to stay engaged, informed, and civil. 

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