So what happened? The explanation starts with changes in how Wall Street firms and management consulting firms go about filling their ranks. Starting in the 1980s, these firms adopted a recruitment strategy that targeted undergraduate students at a handful of elite colleges in a way that other profitable, fast-growing industries—like the energy, health care, and high-tech sectors—did not.
This wasn’t so much because banks and consulting firms had a greater demand for young brainpower. Rather, these other industries managed to find the talent they needed—to, say, devise new medicines or software or oil exploration techniques—from the broad array of American colleges and universities. While happy to hire Ivy Leaguers, they didn’t inordinately seek them out. Wall Street and the consulting firms, by contrast, developed business models that relied on the appearance of brainpower in order to win clients. This put a premium on recruiting from a handful of universities with the highest worldwide brand equity. Top students from Purdue or UCLA might be just as good, or even better, at putting together spreadsheets. But being able to boast that you have a team of kids from Harvard is important when you are trying to sell high-cost consulting and financial services of uncertain value.
What’s more, you can improve your chances of flawless travel by flying early in the day, taking non-stop flights, and choosing an airline with many different flights to your destination.
If Obama’s speeches aren’t as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.
President Obama might still decide to give a speech about events in Ferguson. But it probably won’t be the speech many of his supporters want. When Obama gave the first Race Speech he was a unifying figure trying to win the Democratic nomination. Today he’s a divisive figure who needs to govern the whole country. The White House never forgets that.
There probably won’t be another Race Speech because the White House doesn’t believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.
DC Energy goes to great lengths to protect its winning formula. After one of its top traders, Jason Miller, left for Saracen Energy, another trading firm, DC Energy sued. The reason was that Saracen, based in Houston, had begun playing the New York congestion market, just like DC Energy. DC Energy said Mr. Miller violated confidentiality and noncompete agreements he had signed, and misappropriated trade secrets.
A lawyer for Mr. Miller, who denied all of the allegations against him in court documents, declined to make him available for comment.
Kevin Kelley, the president of Saracen, said in an emailed statement that Saracen’s increased activity in the New York market was because of the hiring of three traders last year, including Mr. Miller. He added that Mr. Miller had not used any proprietary information of DC Energy’s to trade for Saracen’s benefit.
“Saracen also entered the Long Island congestion contracts markets for the first time as a result of Mr. Miller’s background and experience with these markets while at DC Energy,” DC Energy said in its lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia in January. Saracen, DC Energy claims, made $1 million last November and December on Long Island — profits that came at DC Energy’s expense, the suit contends. “DC Energy had emerged as the only consistently profitable trader in the congestion markets on Long Island,” the suit says.
For all the ways that the differences here may simply reflect cultural preferences, however, the main lesson of the analysis is a sobering one. The rise of inequality over the last four decades has created two very different Americas, and life is a lot harder in one of them.
Income has stagnated in working-class communities, which helps explain why “selling avon” and “social security checks” correlate with the hardest places from our index. Inequality in health and life expectancy has grown over the same time. And searches on diabetes, lupus, blood pressure, 1,500-calorie diets and “ssi disability” – a reference to the federal benefits program for workers with health problems – also make the list. Guns, meanwhile, are in part a cultural preference, but they are also a health risk.
The exception is education. If you exclude educational attainment, or lack of it, in measuring disadvantage, five counties in Mississippi and one in Louisiana rank lower than anywhere in Kentucky. This suggests that while more people in the lower Mississippi River basin have a college degree than do their counterparts in Appalachian Kentucky, that education hasn’t improved other aspects of their well-being.
As Ms. Lowrey writes, this combination of problems is an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon. Not a single major urban county ranks in the bottom 20 percent or so on this scale, and when you do get to one — Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit — there are some significant differences. While Wayne County’s unemployment rate (11.7 percent) is almost as high as Clay County’s, and its life expectancy (75.1 years) and obesity rate (41.3 percent) are also similar, almost three times as many residents (20.8 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median household income ($41,504) is almost twice as high.