Take away government benefits and the welfare neighborhood would become Detroit. Take away the government jobs, the postal workers and the petty bureaucrats, the public sector union members who dream of one day moving to the suburbs, though the suburbs they move to will shortly begin looking just like the place they live, and everything will die. Or perhaps it will be saved. It’s hard to say.
Beyond the welfare neighborhoods is the government middle class. The government middle class is not all that different from the population of the welfare neighborhoods and some of them have never bothered moving out.
The government middle class is not Detroit. It’s the people who run Detroit. It’s the people who make places like Detroit happen. For every welfare neighborhood, there are hundreds of members of the government middle class teaching their children, processing their forms and running their clinics. The money isn’t great, but their skills are generally poor and the benefits are spectacular.
Close enough for government work is a phrase born for these people. Getting things right is surplus to requirements. There is no goal to be accomplished. Just the tedious work of a civil service that was funded to manage the inner cities and cope with their problems, that has become the problem. There is as much hopelessness and failure in one of their offices as there is in any housing project. The difference is that the workers are more cheerful because while they might be doing nothing, they are doing less nothing than the men dissolutely playing dominoes or smoking cigarettes under dead trees in the courtyards of learning gray towers left over from the Great Society or the New Deal.
Some in the government middle class do genuinely care. Many of them work completely outside the welfare sector where caring still makes some kind of sense. But this was where the river of bureaucracy was born and this is where it goes to die. Some idealistic souls flit through here and then flit out again. Mostly this is a place where people with college degrees from institutions that would get a laugh from most other employees hold down jobs that no one really needs except the unions and organizations that are on a mission to expand their workforces and budgets.
No one is really happy in the government middle class. It’s not just the postal workers who hate their jobs. The difference is that the postal workers have more time to think about the angle that they will start shooting from. There is nowhere to go and not much to do. The job is hopeless, the regulations are overwhelming and the hierarchy is stifling. Nothing is ever accomplished, but group solidarity requires believing that it is and participating in new programs to learn new procedures created by clueless consultants that promise to change everything, but actually change nothing.
Working in the government middle class is exactly how liberal arts majors imagine corporate life was like in the 50s. Then they get the only job they are qualified for and discover that they can experience it all today, while their idealism dies in a little puddle on the floor. They learn to look forward to the only selling point that such work has; early retirement.
The government middle class is the most hopeless middle class in all of history. It aspires to nothing and it dreams of nothing. In previous generations its workers at least flirted with radical politics. Today you can still find some Stalinists in government offices, but most of them are old, and the rest are more likely to read Farrakhan than Karl Marx, and most will settle for 50 Shades of Grey. Their bosses are using them to take over the system from within, but they are just drones, woefully aware of how hopeless their task is, and they will show up at protests to demand more funding and resources, but mostly they just show up to protect their benefits. It’s the benefits that keep them from killing themselves. Or going on welfare.
Finally there is the government upper class. The bosses and their bosses who don’t just live in suburbs, but lived in gated communities. Racially they tend to be whiter than just about any other group that you can think of. And their neighborhoods of choice tend to be even whiter than that. Imagine the place furthest away, conceptually, though not geographically, from the welfare hood, and you arrive at the places where the consultants, the top administrators and bosses of the government class reside.