It nothing new that poverty in America is on the rise in record numbers. Since the economic recession the United States entered after the housing bubble burst, unemployment is on the rise and previously “secure” investments became worthless. The United States had secured a large and overwhelming middle class for a very long time.
Katherine Newman’s essay broadly looks at economic security before economic downturn, and are now victims of negative social mobility. These conclusions are logically made, and do not depend in any way on previous models that was virtually based on a caste system, separating the upper class from the lower by profession. Instead, Ms. Newman introduced her own criteria, with much larger implications.
Falling from Grace explicitly names five criteria to examine downward mobility: scape-goat executives of large corporations, their families, the dismissal of Union organization, moving manufacturing offshore, as well as divorced wives dependant on their husbands income. These very specific examples illustrate downward mobility from many different perspectives, truly illuminating flaws in the American system.
She brings up a very interesting idea that is necessary to explore in much greater detail. She makes the claim that although normal sociological studies regarding social mobility concentrate on the lower classes, and their inability to escape their situation, it is actually the upper class that has a much harder time dealing with downward mobility as a whole. This is an idea not normally considered in similar essays. Newman suggests that because the upper class is accustomed to their lavish lifestyle they are generally less adaptable–when they are forced to adjust to financial burdens, their sense of downward mobility is generally more dramatic.
This is a direct application to her ideas regarding downward mobility and high-paid executives. Very often these executives are downsized, and forced to step down due to scandal. Sometimes these scandals are a product of the large corporation–other times the individual seeing a failing business, and like the coke dealer in East Compton, turns to what he knows as a defense mechanism and “fixes books”, commits insider trading, or the like. This literal “fall from grace”, resulting in downward mobility is no different in any situation–people use what they know as a defense mechanism.
This also directly correlates with the idea Newman proposes regarding families of these executives. Not only can the proverbial name of these families can be besmirched, but the family is also placed in a situation where they are forced to deal with downward mobility. Used to things such as prep-schools and a different social scene, it can be extremely difficult to assimilate to a new cultural, economic, and social environment–especially because they were forced. Especially for a child this can mean developmental issues due to a lack of a stable home.
She further illustrates this point by making a very specific comparison to the closing of a plant that employed a vast amount of blue-collar workers located in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Newman, in this text is rather bold in her statement that these factory workers better adjusted to their decreased economic situation for a few choice reasons in particular. She specifically names the sociological situations these people grew up in as a specific reason. Contrasted with her point regarding the lack of the ability to adapt to new social situations seen in the upper class, she claims the lower one goes down in the social spectrum, the more adaptable they will naturally be. This class of people is used to making due with nothing more than they need, and are more adept at budgeting their money, while a more dramatic drop in mobility parallels an overall tougher time in dealing with their situations. It is a more dramatic life change.
It is no secret that divorce rates in America in the last half a century have exponentially increased. This can be attributed to many factors–it was tradition that women were treated as second-class citizens, until the Women’s Rights Movement emerged. Many women became empowered and found an exit from physically or verbally abusive situations with the social upheavals that were occurring in America in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The counter-culture that emerged with regards to peace, equality, civil rights, and women’s rights was integral to the empowerment of women. In previous social norms, a divorced woman was not looked upon kindly. The new society that emerged from those codependent rebellions changed the previous stigma, allowing women to escape from unfavorable situations. Unfortunately, however, the glass ceiling does exist–many of these women are victims of downward mobility as a byproduct of seeking personal happiness–and the sad reality is many of these women truly did depend on their spouses’ income.
Katherine Newman’s Falling from Grace, in addition to giving new, updated reasons for downward social mobility, but adequately and descriptively explained the consequences of it in every social spectrum. In some cases, from a perspective never seen before.
Katherine Newman. Falling From Grace. University of California Press; 1 edition (February 26, 1999)