The Wage-Floor Roof of the Working-Class Ghetto
Helen Andrews’ review of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir, by J. D. Vance, in the August 15 issue summarizes Vance’s effort to explain the factors making it difficult for the Appalachian and midwest white underclass to escape “redneck” ghettos. Government is blamed for a number of factors, such as welfare-supported destructive lifestyles. However, the inability to get work is a key factor and one that deserves greater emphasis.
Licensing is one obstacle to employment. However, there are many others. A major element is the inability of wages and employment costs to decline for employers in such areas. For example, a surplus of labor would attract employers only if other cost benefits existed. Wage laws, both state and federal, tend to equalize unskilled wages and prevent distressed areas from competing on the basis of wage costs. Hence both skilled and less-skilled workers must leave established relationships and homes to obtain work instead of waiting for employers to hire in distressed areas.
This destructive lack of labor-market wage flexibility in “advanced” nations retards assimilation, creates ghettos and rural poverty, and, ironically, encourages illegal immigration (since wages are high compared with those of developing nations). It prices labor-intensive production out of the domestic marketplace.
It is also necessary to explore the question of how such policies were foisted upon us. I suggest labor-union influence on the Democratic party: A labor union imposes on its employer in order to survive; Congress and bureaucrats oblige.
Alphonse I. Johnson
It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Duplicity
Hurrah for Richard Brookhiser, who points out (City Desk, September 12) the fallacy behind today’s exaggerated weather-map scare numbers. The first time I saw a TV meteorologist standing in front of a sea of 105s and 108s, I thought: My God, the world is coming to an end! Then, when I started to listen, I found out that the figures were not actual temperatures but the “heat index”: in other words, the real temperature corrected by adding a random number between 10 and 20. The only thing lamer than the heat index is the wind-chill factor, which uses similar fake precision to inform residents of cold places that wind makes you feel even colder. In order of increasing mendacity, the hierarchy is: (1) government budget figures, (2) car dealers’ list prices, (3) overhyped weather statistics for heat or cold.