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History News Network

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History News Network


During these dog days of summer, millions of Americans will flock to the nation’s shores for comfort and relief. Who will go, where they will go, and who they can expect to find there speaks volumes about class in America. Now more so than ever, the distribution of people on America’s beaches each summer mirrors those bar graphs that illustrate the distribution of wealth in the nation as a whole. Long stretches of shore are the exclusive dominion of America’s super rich. A substantial segment is fenced off for the enjoyment of a shrinking upper middle class who can still afford to go on vacations or own second homes. What little remains is for the rest of us; and of that, a dwindling amount could be considered safe for bathing. My neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for instance, hugs the western shore of Lake Michigan. Yet few of my mostly white, well-to-do neighbors can be found bathing or picnicking on this urban shoreline (voted for the second year in a row as one of the nation’s most polluted). Those of us who can afford to will rent a cottage along a secluded, sometimes privately owned, beach, or stay in an expensive seaside hotel in one of America’s vacation destinations, where the price of admission includes exclusive access to a spacious, well-manicured beach. Meanwhile, our neighborhood beach plays host to the city’s working poor, mostly black and Hispanic, who come despite the occasional water quality alert, and despite the sorely neglected state of the beach itself, another victim of our city’s struggle to maintain basic public services in our age of austerity.


Published version. History News Network, (July 2012). Permalink. © 2012 History News Network. Used with permission.

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