Millennials: Job discrimination is no problem!

The national recession ended, officially, in mid-2009. Recovery has been slow and uneven, but the American economy has been on an upward trend since June of 2009. The following chart shows job growth in Indiana from the end of the recession until the end of 2013. (The fourth quarter of 2013 is the last period for which data are available for all the states I’m looking at.) The three lines in the chart represent job gains by three age groups during that four-and-a-half year window. And it is clear that the largest share of new jobs went to workers 55 and older.

Indiana job growth (LEHD data)
Indiana job growth (LEHD data)


(I’m using the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics dataset, a good source for employment data by industry, local geographic area, and other dimensions. The bouncing you observe in each line is seasonal change, such as teachers taking summers off.)


The above chart depicts percentage change in employment. Each line starts at 100 percent of the jobs that age group had at the end of the recession. Increases are measured as a percentage change from that starting point. Doing it this ways makes the comparison easier to see.

In raw numbers, Indiana added 155,816 new jobs for people 55 and older, but only 71,831 jobs to people 22 to 34 and only 44,639 to people 35 to 54. These age groups aren’t exactly the same as the Millennial / Gen X / Boomer generational cohorts, but they are close enough to confirm that job growth is working against Millennials. Gen Xers are lowest, but they are few in number. There are just as many Millennials as Boomers, and just as many in the job market, less than half the new jobs went to Millennials.

The chart only depicts Indiana, which is a conservative rust-belt state that talks about biotech but actually builds warehouses. Let’s look at other states. Washington is the hip and vibey home of Microsoft and Starbucks. How do Millennials fare there?

Washington job growth (LEHD data)
Washington job growth (LEHD data)


Not much different. Well, how about Minnesota, which is listed in several sources as one of the best places for Millennials to live and work:

Minnesota job growth (LEHD data)
Minnesota job growth (LEHD data)


Again, no. Minnesota is actually a bit worse than Indiana, adding only 8% new jobs for 22-34 workers from the mid-2009 base compared to Indiana’s 10%. And the older-worker bias is worse in Minnesota, where the ratio was 27%/8% compared to Indiana’s 23%/10%.

Hold on, though. Economic opportunity isn’t distributed evenly across wide areas. Perhaps even though Millennials aren’t getting their share of jobs across Minnesota, they might be doing well in urban Minneapolis, which claims to be the best place for Millennials in America. Let’s see the jobs pattern in urban Hennepin County:

Hennepin Co, Minnesota job growth (LEHD data)



I looked at several more states and the trend is consistent everywhere. The greatest share of new jobs since the recession ended are going to workers 55 and older. The margin is very slight in North Dakota, where a boom based on oil fracking was going strong in 2013. (It’s waning now.) In Louisiana, the 35-54 group actually lost jobs.

The labor market is a complex and ever changing kaleidoscope. There isn’t a single explanation for why more jobs are going to older workers. In some cases, it is because the older worker is the best qualified applicant.

But discrimination is a factor, too. Before taking my current job at Purdue University, I was involved in labor market analysis and I talked with dozens of employers who were reluctant to hire young people. In some cases the employers were being practical: “It is awfully hard to know what a 19-year-old is going to do,” said one. He didn’t seem to have any particular prejudice – but his experience had shown that young people are more apt to quit unexpectedly. I also met hiring managers whose bias against young people was stronger. Many said plainly that they don’t like younger workers. Many of these adopted the practice of requiring “Three years work experience” for entry level positions. Employers who didn’t make the (unnecessary) requirement explicit would simply put young peoples’ resumes at the bottom of the stack.

Young people have heard all their lives that aggressive pursuit of higher education is mandatory for good jobs and good incomes. (I don’t disagree with that. I’ve certainly benefited from my advanced degree.) But the Millennials have got their eyes open. According to a new report by the Federal Reserve, only 41% of students believe their college investment will pay off. Another 23% believe the cost of college is greater than the lifetime benefit they’ll get from it. They persist because they think they’ll fall even further behind without a degree.


You may have noticed that I titled this post, “Job discrimination is no problem. Let me explain. I googled “age discrimination.” The first, second and fourth items on the resulting list were summaries of federal law. The third was a January, 2014 article from Forbes about age discrimination against older people. The fifth was on AARP’s site and focused, of course, on discrimination against older workers. Next was a Wikipedia article on Ageism, which is defined as prejudicial attitudes toward older people. On down the list, the articles all addressed discrimination against older people only, even though the evidence of actual hiring patterns shows a prejudicial pattern that benefits the over-55s.


That seemed unfair. But then I read what the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says:

 The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states do have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination.
It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older.


So, job discrimination against young people, which obviously is widespread and very substantial throughout America isn’t even considered to be discrimination according to federal law. It is “not a problem” because Congress is in the pocket of AARP and sanctions discrimination again young people.


Made of People

At the climax of the corny 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, Charlton Heston’s character reveals a chilling secret: “Soylent Green is people!” The movie’s futuristic society has eradicated hunger, but their innovative food staple is processed human flesh. Shocking!

The trope has been referenced dozens of times in other movies, TV shows, comics and books, Timothy Cavendish evokes it during his escape from Aurora House in the movie based on the marvelous novel Cloud Atlas:



Here’s my message:  A lot of things are made of people.

I find it easy to criticize institutions, events, social trends and other phenomena. And when I do that, I tend to forget that those institutions, events, trends and other phenomena are formed of people doing what they want, or what they think they should. Each of those institutions, events, or social trends is made of people.

President Obama mentioned the Crusades recently in comments regarding the ISIS group in Syria and Iraq. And that triggered a spate of comments in the blogosphere. I caught up with the conversation with this piece by Jay Michaelson in The Daily Beast. Michaelson pushes back at certain right-wing writers who, he thinks, are trying to white-wash the story of the Crusades. One of those writers is Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

 You can introduce the Crusades to complicate a lazy “Islam violent, Christianity peaceful” binary, but then a lot of Christians are going to hear an implied equivalence between the Islamic State’s reign of terror and the incredibly complicated multicentury story of medieval Christendom’s conflict with Islam … and so all you’ve really done is put a pointless fight about Christian history on the table.


To which Michaelson responds:

The right-wingnut controversy following Obama’s remarks, however, has laid bare a troubling trend among conservative Christians (and the politicians eager to pander to them): They are now in the business of justifying the Crusades.
You read that right. The point being made is not that Obama is wrong to compare ISIS to the Crusades because the Crusades happened long ago (this was Bobby Jindal’s cute, misleading quip), or because the historical context is different. It’s that Obama is wrong to compare ISIS to the Crusades because the Crusades were actually a good thing.


Douthat doesn’t claim that the Crusades were a good thing. He says the story is “incredibly complicated,” and not germane to discussion about ISIS. So I think Michaelson misses the mark in Douthat’s case. His rebuttal of comments by other right-wing writers (e.g., Rick Santorum) is more apt. Michaelson doesn’t help his cause much by dismissing the conservative statements as “revisionist,” while supporting his own case with quotes from a few college professors. If he aims to justify his statements as history, he should cite the authoritative sources. The key name in Crusades scholarship is Steven Runciman. Payne, and  Tyerman are good, too.

The discussion took a good turn in Friday’s Slate, where William Salatin presents a more balanced discussion. But he fails in scholarship, too:

As for the awkward gap between the Muslim aggression and the so-called defensive reaction—about four centuries—today’s apologists plead that the Crusades were a “delayed response.”

In fact, the Christian response in 1095 was not a delayed reaction to the Muslim takeover of the Holy lands in 637.  It was a prompt response to new conditions there, brought on by the arrival of Seljuk Turk overlords who treated the Jews and Christians more harshly than the Arabs had done.


But I wish to make the point that the Crusaders were people. It is easy deplore the Crusades. But I find it much more difficult to despise the people who were the Crusaders. Michaelson probably didn’t bother getting to know any Crusaders personally. And there are plenty of easier-to-know people walking around in our own time and place. But if you’ll take the time and make the effort to dig into history, I promise you’ll meet some interesting and sympathetic people. And some tragic ones.

One of the things everyone “knows” about the Crusades is that the religious argument was just a veneer to hide a campaign of imperialistic looting. Edward Gibbon for one, said this. But that “fact” doesn’t sit well with the actual history of Samson, Abbot of Edmundsbury Abbey in the 1100s. As abbot, he ruled over a vast swath of Lincolnshire countryside.


Ruins of the St Edmundsbury Abbey Church. (Wikimedia)


And yet: Cum rex Henricus accepisset crucem et uenisset infra mensem ad nos orationis gratia, abbas ipse sibi fecit crucem occulte de lineo panno, et tenens in una manu crucem et acum et filum, petiuit licenciam a rege ut acciperet crucem.  (‘When Henry II., having taken the cross, came to St. Edmund’s, to pay his devotions before setting out, the Abbot secretly made for himself a cross of linen cloth:  and, holding this in one hand and a threaded needle in the other, asked leave of the King to assume it!’ )

Understand: the simple act of stitching that “cross of linen cloth” onto his clothes would have been a lifetime commitment to give up everything for the Crusade. Samson wasn’t motivated by greed or viciousness. He was already rich and powerful. He was motivated by a desire to perform every humble, self-negating service he could. We know about Samson from the Chronicle of Jocelin, a Latin history written by one of the monks in the monastery during Samson’s time. Jocelin’s book is picked up by Thomas Carlyle in his Past and Present, which is just about the most empowering thing I’ve ever read.

Samson never went crusading. The king wanted him to stay in England. But other well-off men did go. And most of them sold  considerable wealth to pay for the trip. “In order to raise the needed crusading funds, Godfrey of Bouillon sold the entire country of Verdun to King Philip of France. The Viscount of Bourges sold both the city and country of that name. . . . There are many records involving the sale of vineyards, mills and forests, and even of peasants being sold new rights to their land.” (God’s Battalions, Rodney Stark, 2010, p. 112. Stark’s book is clearly an example of Christian apologetics, but it is good history, too.

Far from an avaricious rabble, those crusaders often sacrificed all their material wealth in hopes of gaining salvation. If they didn’t get salvation; if they died before accomplishing anything noble; if in despair or fear they acted dishonorably; and especially, if their leaders made them do what was wicked, then my heart goes out to them. A clear example of this came in the Fourth Crusade, when Christians were made to assault other Christians and destroy the capital of the Christian world:

On April 12th, 1204, an army of perhaps 20,000 men and a fleet of about 200 ships crewed by Venetian sailors and warriors, broke in and began to loot the greatest metropolis in the Christian world. Constantinople’s mighty walls had resisted numerous onslaughts as the Avars, Persians and Arabs had tried to assail its defences over the centuries. Yet always ‘the queen of cities’, as the Byzantines described their capital, had survived. What had brought the crusaders to attack their fellow Christians and how did they manage to succeed? The crusaders understood their success as a manifestation of God’s will.


The above quote, from an article in History Today, says, “The Crusaders understood their success as a manifestation of God’s will.” And I think that it true. But that horrible mis-truth (that God would wish Constantinople plundered) was perpetrated by one wicked man, the Doge of Venice, who wanted Constantinople wrecked so his trading business could take over the market. And he, too, was a person with a soul.

The 4th Crusade attacks Constantinople. (Wikipedia)


There is plenty to regret about the way the crusades turned out. But it is much harder to deprecate the people who went on Crusade. Their failings are all too familiar, all too similar to the way we fail today.


OK, time for me to confess. If I were judged on my attitude toward historical characters, I’d be a pretty magnanimous fellow. I find it easy to forgive the long dead of their misdeeds and extend the benefit of the doubt to their motives. I feel something close to genuine Christian charity toward many historical figures, and I’ll skip dinner to defend Crusaders, Edgar Allan Poe, Lew Wallace, and others. I’ll even make a case that Hell’s Angels did (sort of) the right thing at Altamont.

But I fall short in extending the same kind of grace to people who are living now – and especially people in authority. I know the processes of US Congress are corrupt. I guess I need to try and extend magnanimity to them. I don’t think I’ll be persuaded that the governing process is honorable. But maybe I’ll learn to feel compassion for the victims inside the process as well as the victims outside it.


Vaccination in the Village

The current fuss about vaccinations reminds me of my Peace Corps experience.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, from 1985 to 1987. I was assigned to a “rural development” project and my particular task was communicating useful messages to people in villages around the regional capital of Zwedru.

The traditional power structure of West African people relied on a system of town, clan, and paramount chiefs – old men with dignity and stature. They settled disputes that arose between villagers, such as  when one man’s cow trampled another man’s rice field. But the chiefs had no capacity to do anything new – no talent for marshaling resources or for cooperating with the outside world. Those villages didn’t have much occasion to interact with the world.  They were isolated by dense rain forests and roads that were impassible for much of the year. They didn’t have electricity, either, though most had at least one battery-operated radio tuned to the Voice of America or BBC World Service.

In the 1980s, the Liberian Rural Communication Network was created to improve conditions in the countryside. The US government built radio stations in regional capitals like Zwedru, with transmitters strong enough to reach nearby villages. I worked alongside six Liberian men – two from each of three tribes that lived in the region.  They were a good bunch of guys: young and ambitious. They all identified with a combination of western names (signaling they were educated) and traditional names (signaling that they were still “of the people.” My task was to help my colleagues with the technical side of radio production , and to join them on village visits where we encouraged the people to take actions that would improve their health and economy. (I spoke Liberian English pretty well, but I never learned any of the tonal West African languages well enough to communicate with village women.)

I ask a little boy named Boukou about his life.
I ask a little boy named Boukou about his life.


One of our biggest projects was support for a World Health Organization vaccination campaign. Every few years WHO came around to each village with a  dry-ice chest full of vaccines. But often when the doctors arrived at the remote villages, few children were there to receive the vaccination. Some of the missing children were working at scattered rice fields weeding and driving away birds. But many more of them were being hidden by their mothers.

The WHO vaccination campaigns had been around for several years by the time I got there, and many of the villagers had experienced them. And they had observed that children would often get sick soon after taking the injection. Mostly the villagers were eager to take advantage of kwi medicine. But in the case of vaccination many of them used their better judgment and declined. (Kwi is the term for ideas and technologies coming from outside the familiar, indigenous tradition.)

So the task of my colleagues and me was to visit those villages a week or so ahead of the doctors, meet with the gathered people, explain why the vaccinations were a good thing, and persuade the mothers to cooperate. We did it with a combination of community-building celebration and serious discussion.


Chris Nyenape speaks to a child about vaccination


It wasn’t too hard to accomplish that. The villagers understood cause and effect. They also understood that some people knew more about health than they did. They were reasonable people. So we began by assuring them that their observation was correct. Children did get sick after taking the vaccine. (We didn’t know this at the time, but the formal theory of argument called Rogerian Argument recommends exactly what we did.)

We then explained why this was a good thing.

The villagers understood the idea of setting a controlled backfire in order to contain a larger brushfire. We used that image to explain that a small bout of illness induced by the vaccine could prevent more serious illness from the full-blown disease. They knew that cutting the heart from the palm tree meant it would grow no further, and we used that image to explain how the vaccine took the heart out of the sickness.

Our efforts were pretty effective. Through the combination of persuasion and community spirit, the mothers accepted the message we brought. They brought their kids to the doctors on the assigned days, and allowed them to get the shot. In fact, I remember there was some disappointment because the doctors ran out of vaccine before all the kids could get it. But all in all, the WHO campaign that year was a success and our small part in it was a positive. The net result was healthier kids.

Three Liberian village boys


I am struck by the contrast between then and now. What worked well 30 years ago in West Africa isn’t working in 2015 in the USA. Maybe it just isn’t being tried. Maybe it isn’t possible.

I remember thinking at the time that these village dwellers couldn’t be blamed for their ignorance. They just hadn’t had the opportunities to know as much about health and science as Americans. But here we are in American, 30 years later, with a worse and more insoluble conflict over a scientific question.

Consider the latest:  Canadian mother Jennifer Hibben-White, who is breaking the internet with her emotional rant against anti-vaxxers. You can see her stuff here and here and here and here.

I think Ms. Hibben-White is right that people should have their children vaccinated. I think she’s right that all the reasons given for not vaccinating are junk science or worse. I think she’s right that people have an obligation to do the right thing for the good of the community. I think, “It’s my choice!,” while true, is never a justification for not doing the right thing.

But I think it is sad that her appeal only stirs outrage and scrutiny. She’ll get a million page views, but she’ll probably not persuade anyone. Part of this is her fault. She doesn’t respect the people she’s talking to. She resorts to name-calling and outrage.  This doesn’t work. You can only bully people when you have power over them — something no one on the internet has over anyone else on the internet. You can only persuade people when they like you — which isn’t likely when you sling insults at them.

But the bigger problem behind the anti-vax controversy and other social issues is lack of community. The Liberian villagers were happy and eager to obey instructions, because by doing that they affirmed their place in the community.  Many Americans today are conditioned to resist social suasion. So we get anger and stupidity, and, occasionally, the sickness and death of a child who might have lived.

I’m not suggesting America should be more like a West African village. A couple of years after my wife and I finished Peace Corps and left, Liberia erupted in a horrific civil war based on tribal tension and opposition to the corrupt government. Tens of thousands died, including at least one of my radio friends. Hundreds of thousands were dislocated. The children pictured above were certainly affected by that war. Our vaccination couldn’t protect them from every kind of harm.

What I am saying is that here in 2015, I still don’t think mankind has figured out how to live well.







Millennials: Do Well By Doing Good

Millennials believe a corporation ought to balance its need to make a profit with a sense of obligation to treat employees and customers well. That finding comes from a recent study by Deloitte, which has surveyed young adults worldwide in each of the past four years.

 “Millennials believe that an organization’s treatment of its employees is the most important consideration when deciding if it is a leader. They then consider its:
  • Overall impact on society;
  • Financial performance;
  • Record for creating innovative products or services; and
  • Whether it has a well-defined and meaningful purpose to which it is true.
While they believe the pursuit of profit is important, that pursuit needs to be accompanied by a sense of purpose, by efforts to create innovative products or services and, above all, by consideration of individuals as employees and members of society.”


How does that strike you? Does this “consideration of individuals” sound dangerous? Or new and ambitious? Or just obvious? The way you interpret this news about Millennials’ opinion is shaped by your awareness of how business management has evolved in the past few decades.

The belief is widespread today that maximizing profits for its stockholders is a legal duty of companies. But it it not what state law says in most instances, and it is an idea that came only recently into common understanding.

The “Statement on Corporate Responsibility” issued in October 1981 by the Business Roundtable, which groups the CEOs of the largest US firms, recognizes six constituencies – customers, employees, communities, society at large, suppliers, and shareholders – as forming the “web of complex, often competing relationships” within which corporations operate. It accepts the idea that “shareholders have a special relationship to the corporation” but doesn’t allow their interests to trump all others:
 “Balancing the shareholder’s expectations of maximum return against other priorities is one of the fundamental problems confronting corporate management. The shareholders must receive a good return but the legitimate concerns of other constituencies also must have appropriate attention. Striking the appropriate balance, some leading managers have come to believe that the primary role of corporations is to help meet society’s legitimate needs for goods and services and to earn a reasonable return for the shareholders in the process.”


The entire article from Salon quoted above is worth reading. But the essence is that as recently as the 80s, corporations widely recognized customers and workers as equally important as their stockholders.

Between 1981 and today the unbalanced idea of corporate responsibility took hold. And it is possible to explain how it happened.  Two corporate CEOs of the 1990s are the exemplars, and their names are Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap and “Neutron” Jack Welch. I learned about these two characters in Steven Greenhouse’s 2008 book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker. Both men are presented there as extreme cases of management. Both men drove up the short-term stock value of their respective companies with questionable practices. Welch eventually retired from General Electric.


Jack Welch


Dunlap was fired from his position at Sunbeam and is now banned from ever managing any publicly traded company in the future.


Al Dunlap


But apart from these two men, the idea that companies should, nay must, work only for the good of their stockholders is deeply embedded in the American mind. I had lunch with a young Chinese grad student on Friday, and even he knows that US corporations are required by law to pursue maximum profit.

It ain’t so.

At the heart of it, the argument goes back to a law case argued in Michigan in 1919: Dodge v. Ford. The Dodge Brothers were part-owners in Henry Ford’s car company but were starting a car maker of their own. Henry Ford knew this, and to thwart them he plowed all the company’s profits into new investments, higher wages, and lower prices. Less cynically, Ford declared he intended to “Spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest possible number,” even to the detriment of stockholders. The Michigan Court decided against Ford and forced him to pay a dividend.

And that case has been the basis for arguing that companies must always maximize profits. Never mind that it applied to a particular set of circumstances, and only in Michigan. Never mind that later court decisions ignore Dodge v. Ford. People who know only a little about law insist that profit maximizing is mandatory, while the much quieter voices of true experts, e.g., Professor Lynn A. Stout at Cornell Law School, say Dodge v. Ford is bad law and should have no more influence on actual business practice than it has on court decisions. Professor Stout’s article includes this charming passage explaining why a bad court decision has so much influence over American policy:

 In particular, Dodge v. Ford serves professors’ pressing need for a simple answer to the question of what corporations do. Law professors’ desire for a simple answer to this question can be analogized to that of a parent confronted by a young son or daughter who innocently asks, “Where do babies come from?” The true answer is difficult and complex and can lead to further questions about details of the process that may lie beyond the parent’s knowledge or comfort level. It is easy to understand why many parents faced with this situation squirm uncomfortably and default to charming fables of cabbages and storks. Similarly, professors are regularly confronted by eager law students who innocently ask, “What do corporations do?” It is easy to understand why professors are tempted to default to Dodge v. Ford and its charming and easily understood fable of shareholder wealth maximization.


So we learn here that the idea that companies owe everything to their stockholder is founded on misinterpretation of a single case in a single state. That idea was picked up only since the 1980s to justify business practices that were vicious (according to Steven Greenhouse) and destructive (according to the people who ousted Al Dunlap from his job).  The idea gained steam for quite a while, but according to the Deloitte survey, it is losing strength with young adults today. They don’t deny the validity and necessity of profits, but they say businesses need to balance their efforts to do good for at least three constituencies.

The 3 constituencies of a company.
The 3 constituencies of a company.


The Millennials’ stance is a significant change from today’s prevalent view. But it should not be controversial. Properly understood, it is a return to normalcy –or perhaps a waking-up from the madness of the past couple of decades.


Mike Huckabee’s Low-Brow Manifesto

There’s a new book called, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. The author is Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas. The book signals Huckabee’s coy approach to the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination. I think the book is remarkable in three ways. (And when I say “remarkable,” I mean “despicable” and “risible.”)

First, it is terrible politics. Mitt Romney damaged his chances to win the presidency in 2012 when he swore off 47% of Americans. Huckabee makes a worse mistake by alienating the 81% of the US population that lives in cities and suburbs.

Huckabee isn’t going to be elected president by the low- and middle-brow cultural cohort he attempts to charm in this book.  There aren’t enough of them. But more than that, the cultural geography Huckabee writes of just doesn’t exist at all.

I’m a proud son of the South, but I can easily relate to folks from the Midwest, Southwest, and most of rural America. I feel a bit more disconnected from people who have never fired a gun, never fished with a cane pole, never cooked with propane, or never changed a tire.”


I have done all those things. I have changed tires, fished with cane poles, and fired guns. I have cooked with propane. I grew up in the Midwest that Huckabee can “relate to.” My bona fides include stacking 100 bales on a hay wagon, winning livestock trophies at the 4H fair, gigging frogs all night on the Salamonie River. I could be a senator from Iowa, if castrating hogs were the only qualification. (My dad did the cutting while I held ‘em.)

Huckabee’s strategy is aimed at people just like me! And I think his premise is nonsense. Shooting off guns and fishing with a cane pole aren’t enough to make a complete person. People need books and music and friends and loved ones and novelty and so much more than Huckabee admits. I reject the  general notion that one lifestyle ensures better people than another, and the specific notion that Huckabee’s propane-fueled “Bubba-ville” is superior to the big city “Bubble-ville” he deplores.

Show me a hardbitten man’s man of an Ozark deer hunter, braving the winter cold garbed in $300 worth of UnderArmor, and I’ll show you a little, Catholic schoolgirl in Chicago, walking to school in much colder temperatures with bare knees in her tartan school uniform. Say all you want about country boy self-reliance and lessons learned from granddad. It only took me two minutes to look in the American Community Survey and find that Arkansas and New York have exactly the same share of people collecting federal welfare: 15.5% on SNAP in both places! Bring forth any one of Huckabee’s cultural tropes, and I’ll knock it silly.

 “[I]t’s all but impossible to own a gun in New York City, much less legally use it. Unless you’re a cop or a crook, you probably don’t possess a firearm in New York City. In fact, you’ve probably never seen one in person.”


Nope. Lots of people own guns in New York City. A couple of years ago Gawker published a list of New York City gun owners. The list is 446 pages long, but apparently that includes only handguns. And the following table derived from General Social Survey data shows that guns are everywhere.


Source: General Social Survey
Source: General Social Survey


One in five people possesses a gun in the wider Middle Atlantic Region of which New York is a part. (See map of the regions at the bottom of this post.) In Huckabee’s own West South Central Region, the rate is 40%. Yes, guns are more common in the middle parts of the country than the coasts, but what Huckabee claims is that his sort of people have ALL THE GUNS. It just isn’t so. Everywhere in the country, a minority of people and households possess guns. Everywhere in the country, a strong majority of people support gun registration and other certain specific measures to keep guns out of irresponsible hands.

I live in a rural area and I wouldn’t be surprised if all my neighbors have a gun or two. I only know for sure about one neighbor and he has at least 16 of them. Ask him about gun control and he’ll come out strong against it: he imagines Obama kicking his door down at midnight. But as the years go by and Obama still hasn’t shown up to bother him, my neighbor is warming to the fact that maybe gun ownership ought to be limited to responsible people like himself. (He keeps his locked in a cabinet and he trains his kids in safety.)


Huckabee is just as far off-base when it comes to God.

“I get the impression that the total number of people [in New York City] who faithfully attend church is a small fraction of the population.”


I don’t know what constitutes a small fraction of the population. But 22% of people in the Middle Atlantic Region attend church every week. Again, that is less than in Huckbee’s part of the country, but not dramatically different. If you were in a room with 100 people and you asked for a ‘Shout Out for Jesus,’ you wouldn’t be able to tell whether 22 or 34 people had responded. You would just know, in both cases, that it was a minority. Huckabee focuses on (his version of) Christianity, but you could make the invitation as ecumenical as you please, and in any city or county in America the faithful would still be a minority. This table shows the percentage of people in various parts of the country who attend religious services (not only Christian church) with various frequencies:


Source: General Social Survey
Source: General Social Survey


There is more to be said about Huckabee’s notion that his sort of people have a stronger claim on God (shudder) than others do. The General Social Survey asks respondents whether they think the Bible is the true Word of God or a book of fables. Ten to  30% of the people choose the book of fables option, and many of them still attend church. (One can only surmise they are doing it for social gain.) Guess which part of the country has the largest share of people who deny the Bible but still attend church? Yep, it’s Huckabee’s South.


Source: General Social Survey
Source: General Social Survey


Look closely at the table. Fewer people in the South deny the Bible. That is what we’d expect considering the larger numbers of Muslims, Hindus, and Jews in other regions, as well as the growing number of anti-religious people everywhere. But the key is the right-hand column, where the 37% next to Huckabee’s region sets the mark for hypocrisy.

Having written this much, I am feeling ashamed for spending time on something so obviously phony and stupid. Of course Huckabee’s book will sell thousands of copies while my readership will be in the dozens. But it is nonetheless phony and stupid. By punching holes in Huckabee’s book, I don’t mean to assail any people anywhere. I’d be just as wrong to claim all rural people are bad as Huckabee is wrong claiming they are all good. There are good people everywhere, but not nearly enough good anywhere.

Before I close, I want to address the third fault of Huckabee’s book. He trots out “God” in his list of low-brow touchstones as if the Almighty were a mere accessory. He puts God first, but then moves right on to the other things he considers neato.

There are Americans who revere God more highly and more sincerely than Huckabee seems to. They would never presume that God prefers them to any other group of people — He created them all, after all. And they would never imply that they’ve got God down pat — recognizing instead that even at their best they rely on grace. Some of those true believers worship in little country chapels. Vastly more of them live in cities and worship in historic edifices or suburban mega-churches with huge parking lots. Huckabee doesn’t speak for any of them.

I’ll end with this stanza from a hymn by nineteenth-Century Scottish Pastor Walter Chalmers Smith:

 Immortal, invisible, God only wise,                                                                       In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,                                                           Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,                              Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.



Regions of the United States