Tag Archives: income inequality

Buying Everything You Need at the Dollar Store

Brian Killian / Getty Images for Procter & Gamble

“Dol­lar Gen­eral is ex­pand­ing be­cause rural Amer­ica is strug­gling.”

Sarah Nassauer‘s latest story in the Wall Street Journal, “How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice,” profiles the discount chain’s rapid growth in areas where residents have little choice in where they shop locally for basic essentials. For those who live forty miles out from the nearest Wal-Mart, the local Dollar General is often the only game in town for daily necessities, from soups to socks to shower curtains.

As discount chains become lifelines for more and more cash-strapped Americans, stores like Dollar General are proliferating — and profiting — as the market “adjusts” to meet the single-serve needs of rising income inequality.

The local Dollar General store, built on a rural highway and surrounded by farmland, sells no fresh meat, greens or fruit. Yet the 7,400-square-foot steel-sided store has most of what Eddie Watson needs.

The selection echoes a suburban drugstore chain, from shower curtains to breakfast cereal, toilet paper, plastic toys and camouflage-pattern socks. Refrigerators and freezers on one wall hold milk, eggs and frozen pizza.

Many items are sold in mini bottles or small bags, keeping costs lower than a trip to the Wal-Mart Supercenter down the road. The two registers are staffed by one cashier, except during rush hours after school and after work.

“It’s just closer,” said Mr. Watson, a 53-year-old construction worker who filled his cart with cans of chicken soup, crackers, cold cuts and toilet paper.

While many large retailers are closing locations, Dollar General executives said they planned to build thousands more stores, mostly in small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery.

The more the rural U.S. struggles, company officials said, the more places Dollar General has found to prosper. “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” Chief Executive Todd Vasos said in an interview at the company’s Goodlettsville, Tenn., headquarters.

“We are putting stores today [in areas] that perhaps five years ago were just on the cusp of probably not being our demographic,” he said, “and it has now turned to being our demographic.”

Sales at the store are up 17% so far this year compared with last year, a spokeswoman said.

On a recent weekday, Jackie Buchanan pulled up to the store astride a forest-green Craftsman riding mower, to buy shampoo and lawnmower-carburetor cleaner. “I’m just one mile down the road,” said Mr. Buchanan, 51, who is unemployed.

Robin Swift, 48, arrived to buy after-school snacks rather than drive 10 miles to the Wal-Mart. “It’s a small town,” she said, “and we don’t have another choice.”

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Youth From Every Quarter

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Kirstin Valdez Quade | Longreads | July 2017 | 2390 words (10 minutes)

When I was twenty-four, my then-boyfriend and I taught at a high school summer program at an elite New England boarding school, which I will call Elliot Academy. The summer school was a kind of cash cow, trading on the Elliot reputation, catering to a wealthy and not very diverse student body. Students were promised rigorous classes, stimulating friendships, field trips to area colleges and idyllic swimming ponds: a glorious New England summer.

One of the students in my boyfriend’s English class was a rising sophomore, whom I’ll call Ana. Ana was from rural Oregon. Her parents, farmworkers, were Mexican—and, though Ana did not say, I suspect undocumented—who traveled around the state following the crops: cherries, plums, pears. Ana was shy and serious, with frizzy black hair escaping her ponytail, off-brand sneakers, and modest, too-long khaki shorts. At home, she translated for her parents; she took care of her younger siblings; she excelled in school. When she and another girl from her town were granted one of the few scholarships to Elliot Academy’s summer school, their conservative Christian church raised funds to cover the rest.

Ana had never been out of Oregon, had certainly never been exposed to the level of privilege on display at Elliot, with its columns and cupolas and manicured grounds. The other students were used to jetting off to this or that summer enrichment program, and arrived equipped with iPods and Tiffany necklaces, sleek new laptop computers and spending money for shopping trips to Boston.

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The End of (Almost) Everything and (Almost) Everyone

smokestacks and air pollution
Smoke stacks at a sugar factory in Belle Glade, Florida. Photo by Kim Semg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Writing in The Baffler, Laurie Penny explores what it will mean for the civilization to collapse slowly, because of climate change, rather than in a single nuclear bang.

For anyone who grew up in the Cold War, the apocalypse was a simple yes-no question: either it was coming, or it wasn’t. Many people I know who grew up before the end of the nuclear arms race describe this as oddly freeing: there was the sense that since the future might explode at any point, it was not worth the effort of planning. Climate change is  species collapse by a thousand cuts. There will be no definite moment can say that yes, today we are fucked, and yesterday we were unfucked. Instead the fuckery increases incrementally year on year, until this is the way the world ends: not with a bang, not with a bonfire, but with the slow and savage confiscation of every little thing that made you human, starting with hope.

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‘America’s Best Investment Ever,’ According to ‘Bowling Alone’ Author Robert Putnam

 America’s best investment ever, in the whole history of our country, was to invest in the public high school and secondary school at the beginning of the 20th century. It dramatically raised the growth rate of America because it was a huge investment in human capital. The best economic analyses now say that investment in the public high schools in 1910 accounted for all of the growth of the American economy between then and about 1970. That huge investment paid off for everybody. Everybody in America had a higher income.

Now, some rich farmer could have said, “Well, why should I be paying for those other kids to go to high school? My kids are already off in Chicago and I don’t care about [other kids].” But most people in America didn’t. This was not something hatched in Washington – small town people got together and said, “Look, we ought to do this for our kids… We ought to have a high school so that every kid who grows up here — they’re all our kids — gets a good high school education.”

Robert Putnam, in conversation with PBS NewsHour‘s Paul Solman. Robert Putnam is the author of Bowling Alone and a Harvard professor; he appeared on NewHour’s Making Sen$e to discuss his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

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What Silicon Valley Is Really Selling Us

Wired senior editor Bill Wasik on the public’s changing relationship with both Silicon Valley and the technology it creates and promotes:

One of the most toxic memes to waft out of the industry recently has been the idea of quasi-secession, whether it was Peter Thiel’s dream of floating hacker communities or Tim Draper’s plan to make Silicon Valley its own state or Balaji Srinivasan’s vision of an “ultimate exit” to someplace where engineers could build a world “run by technology.” But they’ve got it entirely backward. People don’t crave technology like drugs, wanting it so bad they’ll wire bitcoins to the offshore plutocracy of Libertaristan just to get it. They adopt technology when they’re seduced by the communities that grow up around it, often for love rather than money. If inventing new modes of communication or collaboration was seen as a mercenary act—as no nobler than drilling a well or devising a mortgage-backed security—then such platforms would never thrive, because their value tends to arise from a long, slow, unprofitable process of experimentation.

If anything, the public love affair with Silicon Valley is more crucial today than ever.

There’s a reason why web giants adopt slogans like “Don’t be evil” or endorse “the Hacker Way”: The entire business models of Google and Facebook are built not on a physical product or even a service but on monetizing data that users freely supply. Were either company to lose the trust and optimism of its customers, it wouldn’t just be akin to ExxonMobil failing to sell oil or Dow Chemical to sell plastic; it would be like failing to drill oil, to make plastic.

When William Gibson envisioned cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination,” he was right. Unsettle the consensus about the social web and you don’t just risk slowing its growth or depopulating it slightly. You risk ending it, as mistrust of corporate motives festers into cynicism about the entire project.

Read the full story at Wired

Read more on Silicon Valley

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Photo: itia4u, Flickr

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[Not single-page] Does having more money make a person have less empathy?

Earlier this year, Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled ‘Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,’ it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people. It can make them less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children. ‘While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,’ Piff says, ‘the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.’

“The Money-Empathy Gap.” — Lisa Miller, New York magazine

More from Miller

“The real hourly median wage in New York between 1990 and 2007 fell by almost 9 percent. Young men and women aged twenty-five to thirty-four with a bachelor’s degree and a year-round job in New York saw their earnings drop 6 percent. Middle-income New Yorkers—defined broadly by the FPI as those drawing incomes between approximately $29,000 and $167,000—experienced a 19 percent decrease in earnings.”

“The Reign of the One Percenters.” — Christopher Ketcham, Orion Magazine

See another of Christopher Ketcham’s #longreads: “Meet the Man Who Lives on Zero Dollars,” DETAILS, July 2009