Hedonic substitution and the myth of poor conservatives being middle class

Hedonic substitution in economics is buying ground beef instead of steak, or the Pinto instead of the Lambourghini.  People also engage in hedonic substitution.  It’s a hallmark of the conservative worldview.

Living in low quality housing, with one car in a car-centric society, eating a meatless or low protein diet, and yet all the while asserting that you’re middle class.  Homeschooling is often another hedonic substitution.  One hour once a week “co-op” is suddenly equivalent to 15k/kid/year private classical school and will definitely give you the same results.

It’s about telling people who have to substitute cheaper versions that they aren’t substituting at all but instead getting something for nothing because they’re just so smart and middle class.  And also not distinguishing between the people who can choose something else and thus aren’t operating on such tight margins.  The oft-cited (and mostly historical rather than current) statistics of children homeschooled by mere high school graduate mothers leave out how many of their fathers were engineers and STEM types.

While the median household income for married couples with under-18 kids is about six figures and has been even adjusted for inflation for decades, it’s still a median and a bunch of married folks with kids will end up on the low half of that median.  And instead of them being respectably poor or working class, they’re instead endlessly encouraged to engage in elaborate substitutes that cannot give the same result or benefit, but which would be superior if they weren’t being used as substitutes for something more expensive in time and/or money.

This approach also lets the higher-earning households avoid awkward social obligations and relationship building that used to be present even in individualist America out of a combination of ingrained habit and necessity.

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About IT workers and their huge share of married with kids population

Ok not really, it’s a Census news release about some of the demographics of IT work though.  Relevant parts to my title are bolded.

Number of IT Workers Has Increased Tenfold Since 1970, Census Bureau Reports
IT Occupations
NEWS RELEASE: CB16-139

Workers Earn Almost Twice As Much As Other Occupations

AUG. 16, 2016 — The number of information technology (IT) workers now stands at 4.6 million, compared with just 450,000 in 1970 according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This upsurge means that IT workers now represent 2.9 percent of the U.S. labor force.

“The Census Bureau first identified IT occupations in the 1970 Census,” Julia Beckhusen said, a senior economist in the Census Bureau’s Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch. “At that time, there were only three IT occupation categories. That number grew to 12 by 2010 as the variety of work continued to increase.”

IT workers are more likely to be men, and on average, they earn more than their female counterparts do ($82,370 median earnings compared with $72,035). The proportion of women in IT occupations peaked at 31 percent in 1990 and declined to 25 percent in 2014. In comparison, the proportion of women in all occupations has increased over time, from 38 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 2014.

Median annual earnings of IT occupation workers were $80,665 in 2014, or almost twice as much as the median earnings of the total workforce in 2014.

The median earnings, adjusted for inflation, for both men and women in IT occupations rose between 1970 and 2014. In contrast, male workers in the overall workforce experienced earnings declines, while median earnings for women rose.

The highest earning IT occupations were computer and information research scientists, software developers, applications and system software, computer and information systems managers, and computer network architects, each with median earnings of $90,000 or more. A higher share of workers in these occupations also had advanced degrees. For instance, 52 percent of computer and information research scientists had at least a master’s degree. Additionally, 22 percent of IT workers had a master’s degree or higher compared with 12 percent for all workers.

IT workers were twice as likely to work at home as all workers (10 percent compared with 4 percent). Web developers had the highest rate (20 percent) of working at home, compared with other IT occupations. Moreover, web developers had among the highest rates of self-employment (21 percent).

IT workers also tend to be younger. More than half (55 percent) were between the ages of 25 and 44 compared with 43 percent of all workers. Within the IT occupations, web developers were among the youngest with 38 percent between the ages of 25 and 34 and 11 percent between the ages of 16 and 24.

These statistics come from the Occupations in Information Technology report that uses statistics from decennial censuses and the American Community Survey to explore trends and characteristics of IT workers and describes the growth and increasing complexity of the IT workforce in the United States during the past half century.

Other highlights:

· In 2014, 18 percent of IT workers were Asian compared with 6 percent of all workers.

· Software developers, applications and systems software is the largest IT occupation, accounting for 25 percent of all IT workers.

· Database administrators had among the highest percentage of women (38 percent) but also had among the largest wage gap between men and women where men’s median earnings were $86,855 compared with $56,890 for women.

· IT workers had a higher percentage of full-time, year-round workers at 87 percent versus 69 percent of the total employed.

· IT occupations had a higher rate of foreign-born workers, 24 percent compared with 17 percent of total employed. Looking at the largest IT occupation, software developers, applications and systems software, 39 percent were foreign-born.

About the American Community Survey

The American Community Survey is the only source of small area estimates for social and demographic characteristics of the U.S. population. It gives communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Retailers, homebuilders, police departments, and town and city planners are among the many private- and public-sector decision makers who count on these annual results. Visit the ACS helps communities page to see some examples.

These statistics would not be possible without the participation of the randomly selected households in the survey.

 

This one industry disproportionately contains married households with 3 or more children and disproportionately contains SAHMs in those households.

The implications of that plus the bolded stuff left as an exercise.

 

 

Money does matter

I don’t think poor people shouldn’t have kids, but I talk about a high household income earned mostly by Dad because money does matter in a world where people are always running away from their duties and obligations to people outside their immediate nuclear family.  Obviously yes, even in America you can totally raise six kids to adulthood on 20 thousand bucks a year.  But the big conservative lie around this is that it’s a middle class upbringing.

Further, refusal to accept that individualistic, disconnected society really does have high financial costs attached keeps a lot of families dancing without a net over a ravine.

Take the often promoted “telecommute in the boonies!” plan.  Well, where’s the internet to do that?  In most of rural America outside of city limits, high-speed, telecommuting-friendly internet is several hundred dollars a month, not fifty.  In practice, people “telecommuting” this way are either defining “suburb with large backyards” as “rural” or they are commuting the old fashioned way.

And if you live rurally, it is easier to let the kids scamper around while mom stays home with no other adults nearby doing stuff around the house.  But eventually the kids need to go places, and now mom is on the commute-train too.  Even the very rural homeschool types can’t actually sit at home all day every day and never leave until the youngest of nine is 18.

Having no money, and no ability to earn a large income leave the entire household vulnerable all the time.  Dad’s car breaks.  It’s a fix requiring shop access (car lift).  Those kinds of homes exist in rural areas, but they’re not the cheap ones you could afford because “how dare you suggest we not have mom stay home when dad’s earning capacity maxes out at 40k a year!”  A lot of people get forced into really tough positions a lot faster.  It can get really ugly really unexpectedly.

Like romanticizing herb lore because you can’t afford doctor visits for chronic ailments.  Or buying the kids off with cheap filling food because you aren’t really rural, but exurban and there’s nowhere safe for them to play (busy streets, no way to walk to the nearest open play area, and you’re a one-car household).

Money would matter less if everyone was aggressive about using the interwebs to maintain clannish-style community ties to keep people matched up if they were far-flung.  Or if living twenty to a 2000 square foot house was normal mode in America right now.

From both the comments and Shirley Jackson, homes used to be built with very small sleeping areas and larger shared spaces.  Shirley Jackson’s family moved into a home not much bigger than the 2500 square feet places of now, but it was split into four completely separate apartments, with very tiny sleeping areas, almost no built-in closet space and bigger social and cooking areas.  But large homes aren’t built or even modified this way anymore.

Money also wouldn’t matter if people accepted that leaving everything in the hands of one woman on the baby having and raising front will lead to fewer children if she’s really struggling and even if she personally isn’t because it always has and it’s even more the case with reliable contraception and sterilization and delaying marriage for those who take the other two options off the table.

This one’s pretty open for discussion.

Marriage and children in wedlock do cost 100k per year to have

Married-Couple Families in America By The Numbers.

This table leaves out the married couples with no kids under 18 in the house.  This is just a brief glance at where families in America are today.  This is all married couples of every race and ethnic group, of both native-born and foreign extraction, this is all of America that marries and has kids.  And it’s not cheap.

Related Children

In Family under 18

Median Family Income (dollars) Total Families % at $100,000+ annual family income

(number of families in parentheses)

1 90,630 9,843,227 44 (4,344,364)
2 92,322 10,077,382 46 (4,626,248)
3 78,000 3,985,394 37 (1,474,397)
4 66,040 1,172,703 29 (337,068)
5 57,302 307,165 28 (86,303)
6 50,000 99,034 22 (22,059)
7 70,000 37,525 27 (10,261)
8 or more 60,500 16,593 39 (6,419)
Total of all married-couple

Families w/kids under 18

  25,539,023  

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 data

Also very informative are the family size cliffs, particularly after three children and five children.  And if I pull data from about ten years earlier, the numbers are pretty much the same, even down to the percentages.  The medians are a little lower, but not by much.

In a smaller table, I’ll just list what the total percentage of families is if you go ahead and toss in the 75-100k folks to account for lower cost of living areas where money might go a bit further.

Here’s the percentages even if you call 75k the new 100k to raise a family as married folks.

Number of Children % of families earning

75K/yr or more 

(raw number in parentheses)

1 62 (6,120,213)
2 62 (6,190,910)
3 52 (2,075,235)
4 42 (493,219)
5 40 (123,006)
6 38 (37,954)
7 45 (17,114)
8+ 46 (7,604)

 

And there you have it.  A majority of households having kids in wedlock are not doing it on the cheap and significant pluralities are not doing so at larger family sizes.  Definitely something for conservatives to think about when discussing family and marriage issues.  Even at high incomes, it’s possible to feel broke raising kids these days because the prices are being set by very high income households.  This is a marriage canyon.

The white middle class needs black dysfunction and government handouts to exist as a middle class.

It is a canard of the alternative or dissident right that the black middle class is purely government jobs and could not otherwise exist.  It is a canard because the dissident right is astonishing in its historical ignorance and corresponding pretentious arrogance about history.  But the truth is that the white middle class is a government-funded creation too.  The massive edifice of expensively credentialed whites who are paid middle class wages and pensions to administer to (mostly) black dysfunction is just as much a bunch of makework projects as, say, the apocryphal angry black employees at the DMV.

And it is massive, consisting of psychologists, teachers, lawyers, nominally private sector business owners, and so forth.  Not to mention Information Technology, the industry that wouldn’t even exist without FDR’s cheap energy infrastructure projects.  Including rural electrification so that “self-sufficient” white people can indulge their “homesteading” pretensions funded by telecommuting jobs in IT.

This has been sitting around a long time, and while it was, some very naughty and unsafe for work alternative right folks came up with a podcast (podcasts I simply never listen to on general principle, but someone sent me the link with a summary of the podcast) in which they reverse the usual canards and agree with this post, which is pretty hilarious.

Related, the California dream was funded by Vietnam War spending.  Those good engineering jobs were bought with the blood of less connected and poorer whites (and some blacks as well).

The Amish have the highest living standard in the United States

If you define standard of living increases in terms of an individual having more opportunities to enjoy private experiences and consumption of individual goods, you get one kind of society.  If you define standard of living increases in terms of local-level collectives (families, towns, cities) having more opportunities to enjoy shared experiences and consumption of individual and collective goods, you get a whole nother kind of society.

If technological benefits are communally shared and not solely focused on individual gratification, you get a very different picture of improved living standards over time.

To put it another way, a four bedroom, two bath house of 2000-2500sq ft is considered just right for a family of four, but it’s not at all unpleasant or crowded to have eight people living in such a large home.  But the relentless march of progress always portrays the choice as “cram 20 people in” or “have 3-4 people knocking around a giant house” when one could have an intermediate situation where one enjoyed the benefits of modern technology with the benefits of accountability due to living with what has typically been a bit more than nuclear family in your home.

Related, this family lives “off the grid” in terms of energy use, but is very much tightly interwoven and connected into the grid of real community:

http://waywardspark.com/on-homesteading-off-grid-living-and-money/

That couple is raising their children with teachers and adults they knew and liked, among people who know their parents, among blood kin and friends who also have long-standing multi-generational roots in that particular region.  They aren’t nearly as isolated despite their lack of public utilities as the modern SAHM living in a suburb far from both sets of relatives, in a town nowhere near even distant kin or college friends.  A lot of people think it’s limiting or provincial to spend your life living among multiple generations of blood and soil, but it’s natural, it’s normal and just because it’s not American* doesn’t mean it’s not something to be pursued in America.

*American: traditional American living is this, if there’s no religious aspect as with the Amish.  For all the right wing vitriol towards that kind of music and, uh, black people, that’s the real American essence, distilled.  Money, money, money, getting wealth, getting a big chunk of land far away from other people to lord over, these are a few of (white) America’s favorite things.  One of the reasons the social institutions conservatives love are failing is because of that GetRich aspect of Core America (h/t one Mr. Sailer).  It combines with individualism to be ultimately not that predictive or productive of wealth in the amounts desired by nearly all the individuals, but it has created a nation with wealth that none will likely ever see again.

But the Amish and that couple have a higher standard of living than the people with bigger houses on giant lots with a car for mom and dad and junior and sally precisely because the former two are less traditionally American than the latter household.

 

SAHMs providing cheaper in-home daycare undermines their ability to remain SAHMs

Conservatives often provide infrastructure for the very systems and forces that work against them being able to live more normally. As I alluded to in a previous post, SAHMs providing daycare under the table for less than the big daycare centers for “extra money” just props up the potemkin status of mothers who also can’t afford to work except via this unwitting subsidy from usually conservative, usually Christian, usually white SAHMs.  Charging market rates would expose just how few women can really justify working outside the home full time and essentially reveal the lie that it’s more valuable/independent/whatever to do that two working parents setup.

This is one example of a larger pattern in which conservatives provide cover or support to systems that seek to destroy the conservative’s ability to live a normal life.  This example is particularly poignant because in some cases, the conservative women agreeing to this exploitation think it’s enough that they smack-talk the women paying them, as if spitting on their money afterwards means anything real when you’re going to keep taking it and not even charge market rates for all the trouble.

Another example of the larger pattern lies in this blog post from the husband of a conservative SAHM, where he is gloating that their household gets to free ride on people overconsuming for 1-2 children.  The thing is, though, if everyone had more children as they’ve chosen, then even the “upper middle class” wouldn’t have so many excess resources for them to partake of.  Conservative Christians providing cover for cancerous levels of consumption seems harmless, but it’s insidious.

These sorts of things feed into each other.  It’s not that hand me downs didn’t exist before mass ready to wear clothing, but one can pop open any number of books and see how all that worked when it was comparatively rarer to have “just” two children.  You sure weren’t going to have your six kids swanning around in fancy dress clothes from the doctor’s wife’s kids.  It’s different now, but these same sorts of people will cavalierly assert that we just need a “culture of life” to get the baby numbers back up again.  No, we have to be prepared to accept the potential tradeoff of not being able to consume as much, even with things like 3-D printing and nanotechnology.

Likewise, we need to seriously consider the implications of tolerating below-market SAHM childcare as acceptable fringe practice.  They should be asking market rates and they should be financially backstopped by their communities of affinity, blood and religion if doing that means they can’t get offers to provide the service locally.