The American inferno behind our election obsessions: How we're ignoring that millions of lives are in ruin

We spend countless hours fixating on the future of the country. But we're talking about all the wrong things

Published March 5, 2016 4:59PM (EST)

Donald Trump   (AP/LM Otero/Reuters/Gene Blevins/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump (AP/LM Otero/Reuters/Gene Blevins/Photo montage by Salon)

We know whom the voters cast ballots for on Super Tuesday, and thanks to exits polls have some sense of what their rationale was for their choices. But as we extrapolate these results to see what they portend for the general election, what do we really know about the lives of the people who voted? Sad to say, in the midst of our horse race obsessions, really very little.

All totaled, the dozen Super Tuesday states are a pretty big sample group, with a total population of 85 million, almost a quarter of the U.S. population.

Five of the states are more diverse than the country. Five of the states have a higher percentage of college graduates than the nation as a whole, which has 29.3 percent of adults with at least a bachelor's degree. Four have college graduation rates that are significantly lower than the U.S as a whole.

Across America 13.1 percent of those living here are foreign born but in Texas and Massachusetts that percentage is 16.5 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively. But in five states the portion of immigrants now calling the U.S. home is less that half the national percentage of foreign born.

Pundits this year are describing primary voters in general as being cranky, but when pressed for an explanation, the TV experts usually get quite vague about just what has voters upset -- which, in a way, kind of trivializes popular sentiments. "How about those wacky, 'fired up' voters!"

If you're lucky, what you’ll get from these high-paid groupthink prognosticators will be something about how the people who are turning out to vote think the "fix is in" in our politics, with the super-wealthy and multinationals corrupting the process by way of billions in dark money and campaign cash.

Another commonly expressed rationale for voter discontent is disappointment over what has been the weakest and most anemic recovery since World War II. But that sugarcoats what the data shows, which is that tens of millions of Americans are idle and that several million desperately need full-time work but are being kept permanently in part-time status.

In every one of the dozen states that voted Tuesday, the ranks of those not working has grown since the start of the Obama tenure.

And while this decline in labor force participation has deep historical roots that go back to the 1970s, this mega-trend accounts for the increasing irrelevance of the top-line unemployment number that is the gold standard of central bankers and the clueless business press.

Demographers blame the long-term shrinking of our labor force on an aging population, but that doesn’t account for it all, especially when we continue to see historically high youth unemployment rates that in some neighborhoods of color can approach 50 percent for young men.

In a state-by-state analysis of these Super Tuesday populations, we see a country in economic stagnation, and even subtle decline. But you won’t pick up on this if you just look at the national aggregation of economic performance data that Wall Street uses to spin its roulette wheel and central bankers use to guide monetary policy.

The Great Recession and the Wall Street rape of the national economy took a much greater toll on the American economy and family than our national leadership wants to admit, and it becomes more apparent when you look at specific jurisdictions, like counties and states.

Now, as we come up on what will be close to a decade since the crash, the generational consequences of what transpired will increasingly become apparent and perhaps compel more radical action.

We see, based on comparative U.S. Census data put out on the occasion of Super Tuesday, that in two-thirds of the states that cast ballots, poverty is up. In a state like Texas -- considered a "success story," where total poverty was down slightly -- 56.3 percent of single mothers with children under 5 were living in poverty, up significantly from 2010.

Only in Colorado does the census data show real progress in poverty reduction.

This tracks with other recent U.S. Census statistics that show that over the Obama years, poverty has gone up in a full third of America’s counties, and only actually declined in 4 percent of them.

On the home front, this ongoing stagnation and decline continues to cause social dislocation, which largely flies under the radar.

Consider that in seven of the 12 Super Tuesday states, the number of grandparents who have had to step up and take responsibility for raising their grandchildren has increased since President Obama’s first term. All told, close to 900,000 grandparents in Super Tuesday states are standing in for a missing generation, roughly a fifth of those doing so across the country.

No doubt this is a profile of an America that is a "stucknation," one you won’t see depicted in our corporately controlled broadcast news media, which still scratches its head over just what all the fuss is about.

By Robert Hennelly

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Dem Primary Donald Trump Economic Justice Economics Elections 2016 Gop Primary Poverty Racism The Economy