Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Above Average

I have always known this and now this confirms it.   I am 58 just above the average and certainly don't live with anyone and not religious and I live in the South but it has confirmed that I don't fit in.  And that may be more places than I think.   And it also confirms my worst fears about women and why I struggle with establishing friendships let alone maintaining them.   That or the Housewives franchises have done their part as well and that I am a loner by nature.  



This is what the average American looks like in 2018

The Washington Post by Philip Bump August 13 2018

America is the most diverse country in the world: diverse racially and ethnically, diverse geographically, diverse economically. Across the 2,680 miles that the Lower 48 states span are hundreds of millions of people living in every imaginable type of home, holding nearly every conceivable political position.

It made us wonder: What does the average American look like?

To answer that question, we dipped into Census Bureau data and recent polling to get a sense of what that American looks like, where he or she lives, and what he or she believes.

Well: she.

The average American is a woman. 50.8 percent of Americans are women.

The average American is white and not Hispanic. 60.7 percent of Americans fit that description.

We quickly hit a stumbling block, though. Once you start going down various branches of the American population, the majorities shift. Most Americans are women and most Americans are white, but are most women white? As it happens, yes, but as we proceed, we will at times explore what our theoretical average American does or believes as opposed to what an American overall believes on average. In other words: At times, the difference between what an American white woman thinks and what an American overall thinks might diverge.

Here’s an example:

She’s 52 years old. The most common age of white women in the United States is 52. Overall, the most common age is 57. But these both differ from the median age in the country. That figure is 37.7 years, meaning that half of Americans are older and half younger than that number. (We’ll note here that most of these data points are a bit out of date. Census Bureau data and other indicators are often released a year or two after the periods they describe.)

She has a bachelor’s degree. More Americans (and more whites) have only high school degrees than have bachelor’s degrees (26 percent to 21.3 percent), but more Americans over the age of 25 have been to college than not (60.9 percent have been). Among that group, a bachelor’s is the most common outcome (about 35 percent obtain one).

She works in “education and health services.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks private-sector employment into industries. The most common industry for women — and Americans overall — is education and health services. The most common category of employment within that industry is “ambulatory health care services,” meaning, among other things, working for a doctor’s office, in home health care or for a diagnostic laboratory.

She earns $889.62 a week. That figure is for education and health services only. It’s up about $22 since July 2017, but much of that increase is eaten up by inflation.

She lives in a city. About 4 in 5 housing units are in urban areas.

But which city? Let’s consider this through a political lens.

She’s a political independent — who tends to vote Democratic. The largest political group in the country is independents, but most independents tend to vote for one party or the other. The most recent data from Gallup suggests that the average American is an independent and, if so, leans Democratic. Here we get back into the problem identified above: There are about twice as many Democrats as Democrat-leaning independents. But since the latter is a subset of the larger group of independents, it seems more accurate.

She voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. A plurality of the Americans who cast votes preferred Clinton to Donald Trump, especially among women.

So which city? The largest state in the country in terms of population is California, which backed Clinton overwhelmingly. The average state, though, went for Trump by about five points. That includes less-populous states, certainly, but we’re going to cheat a bit and pick a state that leaned toward Trump. Specifically, Texas, one of the fastest-growing states in the country.

About as many Americans live in cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000 as in cities with a population of 250,000 to 1,000,000. So let’s say that our average American lives in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, a city that grew more than 8 percent from 2016 to 2017. It’s about half an hour from Dallas, for which it serves as a bedroom community. Which helps because . . .

The average American has a 26.1-minute commute. So Frisco works nicely.

She’s married and lives with her spouse. While only 48.6 percent of all Americans age 15 or older live with a spouse, 62.8 percent of women age 50 to 54 do. The spouse is probably a man; same-sex marriages make up a small percentage of all marriages in the country.

She lives in a house that she owns or that another resident owns. Most Americans do. It was probably built in the late 1970s and is about 1,700 square feet. Or, at least, that would be true nationally. In Frisco, the odds are much better that the house is new construction, given how quickly the population is spreading out into the plains.

There’s probably another person there, too. The average household size in urban areas in the South is 2.65 people.

She’s an evangelical Baptist. A Public Religion Research Institute survey released last fall determined that white evangelicals made up about 17 percent of the U.S. population, with Baptists making up nearly 44 percent of Protestants in the South.

This is another place where the averages for our specific average American buck the national trend. After all, white evangelicals went for Trump by a 64-point margin. Imagine that our average American is in the 16 percent who went for Clinton.

This, in its own way, is illustrative. Evangelicals are a minority of the country but the largest cohesive religious group. It was that sort of loyal core minority that powered Trump’s winning of the nomination of the Republican Party and has continued to power his approval ratings. Most Americans, though, aren’t in that group.

Speaking of:

She disapproves of Trump’s performance as president. The RealClearPolitics average of recent opinion polling has 52.1 percent of Americans disapproving of Trump. In June, independents in Texas were slightly more likely to disapprove of Trump’s performance as president than to approve.

It’s safe to also assume the following, based on recent polling:

She believes that Trump has strengthened the economy. A poll from Marist College has pluralities of Americans and independents holding this position. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows pluralities of both groups approving of Trump’s handling of the economy.

She believes that Trump has weakened America’s standing globally. In the Marist poll, an overall majority and a majority of independents believe that Trump has weakened the U.S. role on the world stage. In Quinnipiac’s poll, the same held true.

She would rather see Democrats control the House than Republicans. As it stands, the Democrats have a four-point advantage in the generic ballot, according to RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polls.

In the Marist poll, the Democrats have a three-point advantage among independents. An additional 13 percent said they plan to vote for neither party, raising another point.

She probably won’t vote. Most Americans don’t vote in midterms. While our average American is in groups that are more likely to vote — white, older, better-educated — it’s still unlikely. The U.S. Elections Project looked at Census Bureau data to determine that 41 percent of non-Hispanic whites voted in 2014, as did 42.6 percent of those ages 45 to 59 and 41.4 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree.

Our average American’s views on politics probably won’t be heard in November.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dollar Dollar

Last night I went to the awards given by the Southern Foodways Alliance to two women who front amazing ways to generate food and sustenance in rural and urban America.   The SFA was a pet project of the writer and activist John Egerton who lived and worked here in Nashville.  When I moved here I discovered the most amazing Civil Rights room in the Downtown Library and that archive of information and records is something to see and it was Mr. Egerton who was a large influence on its sourcing and design.

Why I had never heard of this organization nor Mr. Egerton until I moved here I embraced the philosophy and this year the Library had set up as a city read The Potlikker Papers, which discusses the role of food in the culture and history here.   Not a seminal work by any stretch it is, however,  worthy of a perusal if not to draw attention to what the SFA does annually to generate community and bring social justice through acknowledging culture through food.

I felt those women were my heroes for their role in the community and I have tried here to build some semblance and decided to withdraw as frankly nothing sustains here.  The Save Ft. Negley group has since disappeared now that the Ft is "saved" but its preservation and maintenance not, but that is for another time another day.  Then we have the Wedgewood Houston group that has tried to do something but it appears that they do little and find less with each month.  For the second year in a row another "group" has decided to restore the community gardens in the lot of the Johnson School.  I doubt in a year from now a seed will have been planted and never will as long as that school sits on that lot.  I have heard of a new group that is trying to resolve the MLS Stadium build to be more engaged in the community. They just showed up new to the game long after the decisions and arguments were made but hey better late than never.   There were endless "groups" that were either pro or against Transit, a group demanding transparency regarding the Slattern's affair and they seem to have disappeared with her resignation and the election.  I have lost count on the astroturf charity fake front groups that show up demand air time and never heard from again in the last two years since I have moved here but at least it keeps people busy.  Watch John Oliver's rant on Astroturf groups and look around from Education to Medical Care to other hot bed issues in your community there is some "non profit" LLC there to ensure misinformation and dark money is stashed.

In all reality in Nashville it is the same five wealthy white men run the show, they dominate the skylines, the roads and the buildings and they too have formed many a collective organization funded by dark money to ensure that the way things go is their way and their way is the only way.

When you have a lowly educated largely poor population of workers they are disinclined to ask questions or take risks.  Our media is to say the least appalling and when Channel 5 investigates a subject they are the sole source of any information that to say contradicts the popular opinion leading many to loathe Mr. Williams for upsetting the rich.

And here is where Dollar General comes to play.  They dominated the city here as they are located here in Nashville and with growth came rebranding and right now they are testing their DGX line of stores but in the poor communities they are the sole source of retail from food to drugs.  Been to a Dollar General? I have and I felt dirty and needed to shower afterwards.  They go where even Walmart fails to go.  And this article from The Guardian shows how they exploit poverty and in turn destroy the community from building their own as one of the winner from last night's award did in her North Charleston community.   Don't tell DG or they may try to rob her of that.




Where even Walmart won't go: how Dollar General took over rural America

As the chain opens stores at the rate of three a day across the US, often in the heart of ‘food deserts’, some see Dollar General as an admission that a town is failing

Chris McGreal in Haven, Kansas
Guardian UK
Mon 13 Aug 2018


When Dollar General came to Haven, Kansas, it arrived making demands. The fastest-growing retailer in America wanted the taxpayers of the small, struggling Kansas town to pick up part of the tab for building one of its squat, barebones stores that more often resemble a warehouse than a neighbourhood shop.

Dollar General thought Haven’s council should give the company a $72,000 break on its utility bills, equivalent to the cost of running the town’s library and swimming pool for a year, on the promise of jobs and tax revenues. The council blanched but ended up offering half of that amount to bring the low-price outlet to a town that already had a grocery store.

“Dollar General are a force. It’s hard to stop a train,” said Mike Alfers, Haven’s then mayor who backed the move. “Obviously there’s been collateral damage. We didn’t expect it. I’m torn but, net-net, I still think it was a good move to bring them in.”

The Dollar General opened in Haven at the end of February 2015. Three years later, the company applied to build a similar store in the neighbouring town of Buhler, a 20-minute drive along a ramrod straight road north through sprawling Kansas farmland.

Buhler’s mayor, Daniel Friesen, watched events unfold in Haven and came to see Dollar General not so much as an opportunity as a diagnosis.

Friesen understood why dying towns with no shops beyond the convenience store at the gas station welcomed Dollar General out of desperation for anything at all, like Burton, just up the road, where the last food shop closed 20 years ago. But Buhler had a high street with grocery and hardware stores, a busy cafe and a clothes shop. It had life.

As Friesen saw it, Dollar General was not only a threat to all that but amounted to admission his town was failing. “It was about retaining the soul of the community. It was about, what kind of town do we want?” he said.

Dollar General is opening stores at the rate of three a day across the US. It moves into places not even Walmart will go, targeting rural towns and damaged inner-city neighbourhoods with basic goods at basic prices – a strategy described by a former chief executive of the chain as “we went where they ain’t”.

The chain now has more outlets across the country than McDonald’s has restaurants, and its profits have surged past some of the grand old names of American retail. The company estimates that three-quarters of the population lives within five miles of one of its stores, which stock everything from groceries and household cleaners to clothes and tools.

Not everything is to be had for a dollar, but rarely is anything priced above $10. But there is a cost. Dollar General’s aggressive pricing drives locally owned grocery stores out of business, replacing shelves stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables and meat with the kinds of processed foods underpinning the country’s obesity and diabetes crisis.

Dollar Generals are frequently found at the heart of “food deserts”, defined by the department of agriculture as a rural community where one-third of residents live more than 10 miles from a grocery store selling fresh produce.

We lasted three years and three days after Dollar General opened. Sales dropped and just kept dropping - Doug Nech

That was not what bothered Friesen. He saw construction of a Dollar General more as a statement about the health of his town as a whole than any one of its 1,400 residents.

If Dollar General were to be believed, there was a sound economic benefit for Buhler from one of its stores. This time the company didn’t ask the council for money. Instead it sold the promise of prosperity, claiming it would boost the town’s coffers with increased sales tax revenues by encouraging residents to shop locally instead of traveling to distant supermarkets for what they cannot find at the grocery store.

Buhler’s council called two public meetings in March to gauge the mood of residents and invited Doug Nech, owner of neighbouring Haven’s only grocery store, the Foodliner, to speak. Dollar General had driven his shop out of business days earlier.

“We lasted three years and three days after Dollar General opened,” he said. “Sales dropped and just kept dropping. We averaged 225 customers a day before and immediately dropped to about 175. A year ago we were down to 125 a day. Basically we lost 35 to 40% of our sales. I lost a thousand dollars a day in sales in three years.”

The arrival of Dollar General cost the Foodliner hundreds of thousands of dollars over that time. The foremost challenge was price. The chain has the power of scale in negotiating with foodmakers. Nech discovered the store had done a deal with Campbell’s Soup to make a 14.5oz can of chicken noodle soup for $1.50, the price he was paying wholesale for an 11oz can of the same soup.

“Dollar General have buying power. There’s not a lot of competition at the wholesale level so it’s rather difficult and the smaller you are, you pay a higher price for goods whether it’s in delivery costs or volume buying or any number of things,” he said.

Nech calls Dollar General “a cancer” but reserves his anger for Haven’s council for subsidising a hugely profitable corporation to compete against him. He asked the council to cut his shop’s utility bill to $100 a month until the Foodliner received a matching benefit. It refused, saying that Dollar General had taken advantage of a programme to bring in new business while Nech’s was long established.

“It’s the principle that they gave them money to come to town. I’m kind of conservative. I don’t believe in asking government for anything and I damn sure don’t believe in asking the government for anything now,” he said.

Friesen said Nech’s account “scared a lot of people” in Buhler who feared they could lose their own grocery store. The council also took on board what happened in a town an hour north-east of Buhler when a small Walmart moved in, put two grocery stores out of business and then shut down, leaving the town with nothing. “Dollar General, Walmart, any large corporation, doesn’t have the best interests of our community at heart here at all,” said the mayor.

Buhler’s council was not reassured by Dollar General’s attempts to say that it should not even discuss the store and its potential impact at the planning meetings. The company submitted its application through the developer assigned to build the outlet. The developer sought a change of use for the land from agricultural to retail without specifying what kind of shop it planned to construct. Friesen said Dollar General did not want its name brought up during the council’s deliberations.

“Dollar General were saying this wasn’t an application for a Dollar General, it was an application for a retail store. It could be anything. It could be a clothing store. They didn’t want us to consider some significant issues such as local economic impact,” he said.

The council asked an expert on the impact of cut-price stores from Kansas State University to address the public meeting. David Procter laid out the ways independently owned family businesses generally benefit small communities. “On the average there are about 15 employees in these small grocery stores and Dollar General stores might have five employees. Profits from small-town grocery stores are generally going to stay in that town whereas profits made by Dollar General, a significant percentage of them anyway, are going to the corporate office in Tennessee,” he said.

Procter said many local grocery stores also serve as community gathering places, some of them with delis and seating areas where people have lunch, and offer services such as home delivery for the elderly or infirm. Dollar General, which tends to build spartan shops on the edge of towns to catch passing traffic on main roads, does none of these.

“Grocery stores give more back to the community. They are much more likely to support local sporting teams, local faith-based organisations. Dollar General corporate policy sets a pretty strict limit on how much community giving they provide,” said Procter.

Some at the public meeting spoke up in favour of the chain. They liked its long opening hours – most of Buhler’s shops are closed on a Sunday – and cheaper prices. But the sentiment was overwhelmingly against the store and an informal online poll of the town’s residents came out two to one in opposition. Some people didn’t want an ugly building as the gateway to the town.

A retirement community next to the planned site objected. In the end, people in Buhler decided that although the grocery and hardware stores might cost a little more they were prepared to pay a premium to preserve their community. Buhler has a large brown and yellow sign on the main road into town. It features a cross with an open book suggestive of a Bible. On one page is written “traditional values” and on the other “progressive ideas”.

“There were some who said this is not very progressive to deny a new retail development in the community,” said Friesen. “But there was agreement in the city council that the more progressive thing is to not do what every small community in Kansas seems like it’s doing, just begging for a national retail chain to come in.”

Days after Nech was driven out of business in Haven, Buhler’s council voted unanimously to reject Dollar General. The company’s developer was not pleased. “I wasn’t terribly impressed. They stormed out. They were pretty hot about it,” said Friesen.

In Haven, the former mayor Mike Alfers conceded that the promised financial advantage of Dollar General has largely been lost with the closure of the Foodliner. It is now a fitness centre, with the old grocery store sign still hanging outside. Sales tax revenue for the town rose by more than $60,000 between the years before and after the Dollar General opened. But the Foodliner alone was collecting around $75,000 a year in sales tax which is now gone.

On top of that, Nech paid an annual electricity bill of $37,000, which the city made money on, plus there was the break the council gave Dollar General on its utility bills. It remains to be seen how much business will transfer from the defunct grocery store to the Dollar General but the end result is the Haven’s main street is finding it even more of a struggle to survive with the diminished flow of people to pick up groceries.

For all that, while Alfers feels sympathy for Nech, he said the Dollar General is the future. “The Model-T put horses out of business. It’s hard to protect existing businesses,” he said. “I would still vote for Dollar General. If one state didn’t accept the Model-T it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. I think Buhler voted their sentiment. The question is, in five years will they have a Dollar General or something similar?”

The owner of Buhler’s grocery store, JC Keith, is acutely aware that seeing off Dollar General is not the only challenge. With decent paying jobs increasingly scarce in rural Kansas, a good part of the population of Buhler and Haven work in large towns with ready access to a range of rivals from Walmart to farmers markets. It’s easier for residents of what have become bedroom communities to stop at a major store on the way home from work and only use the local grocery shop for last-minute supplies such as milk.

“A majority of people in Buhler that work, work somewhere else,” said Keith, who is also a long-distance truck driver. “Chances are they drive right by some chain store on their way home.”

The threat from Dollar General prompted Keith to evaluate his way of doing business. He was already in the process of building a larger shop just down the road from the existing one, but now it will incorporate hot foods such as chicken and a salad bar. It will also open later.

For all his support for building the Dollar General in Haven, Alfers rarely shops there and regrets the loss of the Foodliner. “It makes a lot of difference to me. I shopped a lot at Foodliner,” he said. “Now I have a hard time time shopping at Dollar General. I like to cook. I like food items and spices you can’t get at Dollar General. I’m less loyal to any one store these days.”

Haven’s residents now have to travel out of town to find fresh food, although many do that for work in any case. The more immediate impact has been on those who are less mobile, like the elderly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that about a quarter of the population is unable to buy healthy food nearby. Dollar Generals are frequently to be found in those areas and some studies have made a direct link between the rise of dollar stores and unhealthy eating. But it is not that straightforward. Megan Rinehart worked at Nech’s Foodliner for six years.

“This isn’t a rich town. A lot of our customers bought not healthy stuff. They leaned towards what was fast and cheap. We had a pretty good selection of fresh produce. It was a matter of if they could afford it,” she said.

An agriculture department study found that many of those on low income and reliant on food stamps were more likely to decide where to shop based on price than where the nearest store is. They drive past a grocery store to a Dollar General.

Alfers thinks Buhler will struggle to stave off the cut-price chain store because it is the future. Doug Nech is not so sure. He owned the Foodliner alongside a job travelling a dozen states as a church pew cushion salesman. Nech has seen the impact across the midwest of the store that put his own out of business. He views Dollar General as a juggernaut but that does not mean he thinks it’s invincible.

“Dollar General is building just as fast as it can. Nebraska. The Dakotas. You see it,” he said. “But somewhere down the line, as these small towns dry up, business for Dollar General is going to dry up just like it does for a grocery store. If there’s nobody new coming to town and your older population is dying off and they’re not getting replaced very quickly, who are they going to sell to?”