Unequal societies are satisfied with solving problems for the wealthy; others can go pound sand
Politicians and bureaucrats “inside the Beltway” that circles Washington, D.C., pundits like to prattle, simply do not understand the challenges of daily life that average Americans face “outside the Beltway.”
But here’s something the pundits have yet to realize: If you really want to understand everyday life in a deeply unequal society like the United States, the best place to look may now be on the Beltway.
Right there on the asphalt concrete, anyone who bothers to look can see all the tensions and frustrations that define daily life in an America ever more divided between a prospering rich and a shrinking, struggling middle class.
The highway officials who run the Beltway stretch that winds through Northern Virginia have just opened up the nation’s latest set of “Lexus lanes.” For a stiff fee, affluent motorists can now zip around the Beltway in “express toll lanes” while their less affluent fellow motorists sit stalled in rush-hour traffic jams.
And those fellow motorists do a lot of stalling. The Washington region has more traffic congestion than any other major metro area in the entire United States. In 2010, the latest national Urban Mobility Report details, commuters in the D.C. area lost an incredible 74 hours to traffic jams. In 1982, by contrast, Washington area commuters lost just 20 hours to slow traffic.Something else fundamental — besides traffic — has changed around Washington since 1982. The area has become substantially more unequal.
The national capital region used to be a middle class haven, a place where average Americans, the Washington Post recalls, could take home “modest but steady paychecks” as federal employees.
But a string of White House initiatives, starting under Bill Clinton and accelerating in the Bush years, have outsourced a heavy share of federal jobs to private contractors. The dollars that the federal government is funneling to these contractors in the Washington area have, overall, quadrupled since 1990.
For average workers, this sea-change in federal employment practice has meant less secure employment and smaller paychecks. For Washington’s “growing upper class of federal contractors, lobbyists, and lawyers,” notes a recent Reuters analysis, this switch has brought a steady gusher of windfalls. . .