The 99% Gets A Break Down

This last weekend I was asked to do a training on class for a group of Occupy activists in upstate New York. I was delighted, thrilled — and then terribly nervous. Why? Well, I love the 99% framework. But when it comes to getting deeper in class, it’s a little … uhm… conflating. I worried people would refuse to break apart that 99% framework, keeping class as a simplistic two-dimensional dynamic.

In times of confusion, I go for some objective data. Thankfully, I ran across a new resource from the Corporation for Enterprise Development called

the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard (http://assetsandopportunity.org/scorecard/).

The website is simple to navigate and easy to read. Very quickly one can look at overall statistics of financial assets and income, jobs, housing/homeownership, education and health care. Statistics are quickly broken by state, race, gender, and household family structure. Like I got to see my own Pennsylvania’s home ownership rate (70%) but a 3% foreclosure rate with 5.5% deemed as high-cost mortgage loans.

One of the pieces I most appreciate is their use of “asset poverty” — “households without sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.” It’s what Cornell West has been calling the “poor and nearly poor.” I fall in the category, like a lot of us who think of ourselves as proudly middle-class, a sign of the shifting economic landscape in our country. According to their research, 27% of the population falls in that category — a sizable 20% in Pennsylvania (up 10% in the last three years!).

Compare that to the “income poverty rate” — those below the federal poverty threshold — which is only 14% nationwide (a mere 12% in Pennsylvania).

The website is easy to search and play around, so I’m recommending it as something to play with.

In the end, did I use the material from the website? No. After using an experiential tool, Star Power, the resistance melted and people dived right into working class dynamics talked about on Class Action’s blog and listserves. (Star Power is a trading game that consistently unfolds the underlying dynamics of economic class, including paternalism, inferiority complex, middle-class confusion. With no sense of irony, the company that produces it charges $249 for the game — but we’ve been using the home-made version for years, e.g. http://www.whatsrace.org/pages/starpower.htm

But, nevertheless, I wanted to share this helpful new resource!