Old White People Who Think They Can Just Check Out Should Think Again

So what is all this anger among the old white people really all about? Why are old white people wearing odd costumes and hating the president all the time?

We old white people all know exactly what it is. But nobody will say it out loud. It never comes out in the stories, even though it's right there staring us in the face. When we were young, the world was white. Everybody in the neighborhood was white. Everybody downtown was white. Everybody at church was white. Everybody on television was white except Nat King Cole, and at least he sang white.

Now we look out at the world, and it's different. It's black and brown and foreign and lesbian and Muslim and vegan -- all kinds of weird stuff. So old white people are pissed. They don't want to pay for public school any more if the schools are going to be full of black lesbian Muslim kids. They don't want to pay for healthcare reform if the money's going to take care of brown foreign vegan people.

The old white people want out. They're going to take their ball and go home. They no longer choose to be part of the national fabric.

Only problem with that? Without the national fabric they perish.

I ran across this theme in a story I have been working on about about Governor Rick Perry and the "Texas miracle." It had to be cut for space, so I thought I would inflict it on you here instead.

On the presidential campaign trail, Perry touts the state's strong economy as proof that he knows how to do things. My story, which runs in the newspaper tomorrow, says most of the good things about Texas are things he had little to do with creating. The bad thing is that he's been busy tearing apart many of the good things in the last year.

As usual with a story like this, I got to learn a lot more good stuff than I could squeeze into the allotted space. There was one especially painful cut -- an exchange with Rice University sociology professor Steve Murdock, the former official state demographer of Texas, who argues that Texas is now an important model for what the rest of the country should avoid, not emulate.

By starving public education, older conservative whites will find one day they have cut the ground from beneath themselves, Murdock says. "When you look at trends for 2040, most projections are for somewhere between a quarter and a third of the population of Texas being Anglo or non-Hispanic white," he says. "About 8-10 percent will be African-Americans, somewhere between 52 and 59 percent will be Hispanic and the remainder will be primarily Asian."

The problem, he says, is that minorities in general and Hispanics in particular already have alarmingly low records of educational attainment in Texas. "If you look at Hispanics in Texas, 42 percent according to the most recent census data for 2009 have less than a high school level of education."

Minority kids, especially Hispanic kids, he says, need more public education investment and more services, not fewer. Without that extra help, those kids won't finish school, won't be well educated and will not be well employed.

Under Perry, Murdock says, "We basically said to our schools, 'We are going to take $500 to $700 per student per year away from you, and you're going to have to absorb somewhere between 140,000 and 180,000 new students and not get a cent for that."

He says older conservative whites miss an important point in all of this. Perry may call it a Ponzi scheme, but the way Social Security and Medicare actually are supposed to work is for each new generation of young workers to pay for the older retired generation's safety net.

Murdock says there will not be a big enough population of young, private-schooled, well-paid white workers, if that's what the old white people were counting on, to pay for the old white folks' upkeep.

"What people sometimes miss, when they kind of say, 'Well, we don't have to worry about one group of people or the other,' is that an economy and particularly a government run with a pooling of resources.

"My argument is that there are two basic populations in Texas and across the country. There is an aging population, literally off the end of the life cycle, of non-Hispanic whites who aren't going to have a resurgence of growth. They've been below replacement fertility for 30 years.

"They need services like Social Security and Medicare. The other population is a young increasingly minority population. They need educational services. The older people need these younger people to get educated so they can help pay for services. The populations, younger and older, are obviously interdependent."

It's a pretty simple proposition. Old white people need young minority kids to do well and prosper so that they will be able to pay for the old folks' safety net when the old folks need it. Of course, old people can always say, "No, please take away our Social Security, our Medicare and our Medicaid. We want to die outdoors living under bridges."

But if the old white people want to collect Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, then they need to get busy making sure those minority and immigrant kids get really solid educations and have lots of help going on to college.

When I attended the University of Michigan, it was virtually free -- almost free -- to in-state students. I worked my way through with factory jobs. Last time I checked, in-state tuition and books at Michigan came to about eight grand a semester -- $64K for a bachelor's degree not counting living expenses. Even with a good factory job, I think it takes a very long time to save up $64,000. Of course, you can always mortgage yourself for the money.

The point is, today's old white people benefited from enormous social subsidies in the post-war era, especially in education, or we'd all be in much tougher straits today. By pulling that same rug out from under today's American children, we slit our own throats. On the plus side, maybe this way they won't have to slit our throats for us when they grow up and realize what we did.

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