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Southern-Italian American ‘Education Attainment’ – Census Numbers ... “Read ‘em ‘n Weep”...Guidos Galore

Southern-Italian American ‘Education Attainment’ – Census Numbers ... “Read ‘em ‘n Weep”...Guidos Galore

Tom Verso (August 24, 2012)

While the Italian American ‘prominenti’ and ‘literati’ engaged in an intra class ‘dust-up’ over the “Jersey Shore/Guido” thing, both points of view are manifestations of their respective ‘upper-middle class’ perspective largely devoid of lower class reality. While the ‘prominenti’ express their usual indignation about media denigration of Italian Americans, and the ‘literati’ express their usual indignation about the ‘prominenti’ indignities (I think I have that right. The debate is very “Waiting For Godot”-ish); neither, the ‘prominenti’ nor the ‘literati’ extrapolate the lifetime socioeconomic and cultural implications of the ‘Guido’ mentality, lifestyles and values for the lower class twenty-something southern-Italian Americans.



At its début, predictably, the reality show Jersey Shore featuring twenty-something Italian Americans brought the champions of Italian American culture into the ‘jousting lists’ once again. The ‘knights of virtue’ who defend Italian American dignity against slanderous representations vs. the ‘champions ofWhat me worry?”, artistic and academic freedom, and free speech faced off again, as they did over The Godfather , the Sopranos, etc.
Each of these groups represents the opposite side of the same upper-middle class coin. Theirs are ideological debates in terms of the upper-middle class Italian American value systems of the respective groups. 
The reality of the southern-Italian American lower classes (i.e. the vast majority of the Italian American population); their standard of living, their sense of Italianita, their values and opinions, their future and the future of southern-Italian Americanita are not part of the discussion. Ironically, all these upper-middle class debates are about movie and television story lines built around the lives of the lower classes of southern-Italian Americans.
Thanks to, Bordigera Press and editors Airo & Cappelli, we have a detailed documentation of the “What me worry?” side of this debate; however, sadly only hearsay glimpses of the virtue defenders. This one sided presentation of the debate seriously compromised what could have been a significant contribution to the library of Italian Americanita.
The book Guido – Italian/American Youth and Identity Politics edited by Airo & Cappelli is a collection of essays and interviews with a group consisting largely of academicians, which I characterize as the ‘literati’. They are juxtapose to the group, characterized in the book as the “prominenti or the Italian/American ethno-political elites", who protest the negative images of Italian Americans in the media (p. 18).
The prominenti are those who have called for some form of Italian American action against the Jersey Shore program because of its denigrating representations of Italian Americans. They are further characterized as “self appointed leaders” (p. 39) who presume to speak for all Italian Americans
The literati on the other hand:
“...members of the academic community are not of course, part of this self-appointed circle of leaders. Perhaps this is indeed the problem –that these different communities do not speak to each other.” (p. 18 n. 4)
However, as with all social classification systems there is no ‘Black & White’, there is some overlapping of the groups. Prominenti protesters also include some literati academicians. For example, at one point a list of prominenti includes writers and professors:
“UNICO president Andre DiMino; The Order Sons of Italy in America and the national Italian American foundation...Doctors, lawyers, writers, professors, Supreme Court justices, the Speaker of the House, corporation presidents and CEOs” (p57 emp. +)
Nevertheless, given some exceptions, it seems that the prominenti largely consists of professionals and the literati academics.
Besides concerns about free speech, which they feel are being infringed upon by the prominenti, the literati do not see the negativity in the Jersey Shore Guido culture that concerns the prominenti. To the literati, Guidos are just young people acting out youthful roles like many of us did in our youth.  Anecdote examples are presented in the book which may be summed up as: I use to be a Guido when I was young and look at me now. I’m a successful professor, engineer, politician, etc; so what’s the problem?
In the Gudio... book, this differentiation between the prominenti and literati is characterized as an inter-class struggle; the prominenti represent a different class than the literati. For example: “The protest has the character of a class defense...’ (p 57). However, to my mind, the clash between the two groups is more accurately described as an intra-class conflict; both the literati and the prominenti are in fact upper middle class.
Class Character of southern-Italian Americana
In sociological terms, a socio-economic class is generally (often) characterized in terms of three variables: education, life style, and income.  For these variables, the upper-middle class quantitatively measure significantly above the averages of the lower classes
To be classified as upper-middle class, a person need not be ‘above average’ in all three categories simultaneously. For example, a successful entrepreneur may only have a high school education, but be very wealthy. Similarly, a college professor may not be wealth, but by the test of education, leisurely work condition, life style, job security, etc. would also be considered upper middle class.
Perhaps a more meaningful way to identify the upper-middle class is in terms of how it differs from the lower-class characteristics. The lower classes work longer and harder hours per week and weeks per year, for low wages, under stressful work conditions, with no job or income security, low if not negative net worth, etc. The upper middle class suffers none of these hardships.
For example, Washington D.C. public school teachers would generally not meet the test for upper-middle class, even though their educational attainment and income may be well above average, because the job conditions of these twenty-first century urban ‘carusi’are profoundly difficult and stressful; as evidence by the incredibly high turnover rate. A recent study found:
“In DC Public Schools, 55 percent of new teachers leave in their first two years, according to an analysis by DCPS budget watchdog Mary Levy. Eighty percent are gone by the end of their sixth year.” (see:
In short, the lower classes represent everything the American dream strives NOT to be. The upper middle class lives the American dream in one form or another.
In the above-mentioned debate between the ‘literati’ and ‘prominenti’, both groups meet the test of upper-middle class.
Census Data documents Southern-Italian American class character
By far, the very best social scientific demographic research of the American people, in terms of comprehensiveness, scientific methodology and mathematical statistical rigor, is The American Community Survey” (ACS) conducted by the U.S. Census Department.
Highly reliable data from the Survey provides documented quantified factual, measurable and verifiable characteristics of the southern-Italian American people, which in turn may be used to make valid logical inferences about the people and their culture. 
[Note: the Survey identifies persons of “Italian” ancestry. However, given the historic fact that the vast majority of ‘Italian’ immigrants came from southern Italy, we can infer that the vast majority of the 17+ million, who 'self-identified' themselves on the survey as being of Italian Ancestry, were more accurately of ‘southern-Italian’ ancestry. And, give the profound historic and cultural differences between the people of northern and southern Italy at the time of the great immigration before 1920, it is historically and sociologically significant to keep the adjective modified ‘southern’ prominently in mind when discussing Italian Americans.]
Consider the ACS table below describing the Education Attainment Levels of southern-Italian Americans 25 years and older by Gender:
This an exact copy of the ACS table showing the “estimated” numbers in each “Education Attainment” level for southern-Italian American “Males” and Females” 25 years or older.
ACS defines:
Professional school degree – “degree beyond a bachelor’s (for example MD, DDS, DVM, LLB, JD)”
Doctorate degree -  “(for example PhD, EdD)”
For purposes of analysis, the “raw data” in the above table was converted to the Excel table below. In this table, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ are aggregated providing total numbers of southern-Italian Americans in each Level of Attainment for the population 25 years and older and percentatages.

Notice rows 15 and 16, they correspond to the above discussed groups prominenti’ and ‘literati’. Combined they constitute a total of 3.5 percent of the southern-Italian American population age 25 or older. Clearly, they constitute an elite subset of southern-Italian Americans.
Further, given the high positive correlation between education attainment and upper-middle class characteristics (income, job conditions, life style, etc.), it is reasonable to conclude that these two groups can be characterized as upper-middle class.
Also, the 96.5% of southern-Italian Americans with less education attainment than Professional or Doctorate would constitute the lower classes; most especially the 66.4 % with less than a bachelor’s degree.
Guidos Galore
It seems obvious that the Guido characters on Jersey Shore are marginally educated and employed. Given the education attainment statistics above, they are representative of a very large percentage of southern-Italian Americans age 25 or older - i.e. the characters really are real!
Accordingly, one wonders why the ‘promineti’ are so outraged. Is it becasue the reality is so outrageous, it’s not bearable (I can't bear to look or think about it so I deny it exists...sociological class repression)?  While the buffoonery of the Jersey Shore characters may or may not be representative of the twenty something southern-Italian population, their education and employment status and more importantly dismel future prospects capture the reality of the southern-Italian American youth.
Further, one wonders why the ‘literati’ are indifferent to the reality of low education attainment and future job prospects and standard of living – especially because the literati are for the most part teachers? The rationalization that “I use to be a Guido and now I’m upper-middle class” is based on the assumption that the economy of the past is a guide to the future.
Those who caught the wave of the post WW II economic boom could afford to spend part of their youth in the Guido culture. When they decided to get serious about life, college was cheap and jobs were plentiful.
Today, college student debt approaches one trillion dollars. The average student graduates with approximately 25,000 dollars in debt and virtually no career path job prospects leading to the upper-middle class life. Indeed, today Guidos will be lucky to achieve what in the post war economy was a low middle-class job and life style such as factory producation workers of earlier generations.
In Sum
Jersey Shore is truly a reality show. It depicts the reality of the education and vocational status of the southern-Italian American youth.
Both the ‘prominenti’ and ‘literati’ demonstrate a callous indifference to the reality of the southern-Italian American youth. Why are they not using their prestigious positions to help the youth instead of complaining about the reality of our youth on television or rationalizing the reality as Not to Worry?
They bicker among themselves from their privileged positions in professional offices and ivory towers; immune and isolated from the bleak future that awaits the twenty something southern-Italian American generation.
Literati par excellence, Fred Gardaphe wonders (Guido ... p. 71):
“Since when have we become AFRAID OF our youth?”
Me! I look at the chart below and I wonder:
“When will we become AFRAID FOR our youth.”
Read it and weep!

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I think in my own opinion Education shouldn't be a thing that will be made to be very stressful by attaching stringent measures in the process of attaining education.However,i understand that there would be stress when reading for examination,test,classwork,etc.But there should be a level of ease to enable them play because all work without play makes Jack a dull boy.

you try to make a scientific

you try to make a scientific argument, then blindly refer to all 17 million as southern italian americans while admitting "However, given the historic fact that the vast majority of ‘Italian’ immigrants came from southern Italy,". Now while true more southern italians came than those from the central and north, there is no where NEAR a clear enough majority to condone labelling all southern. during the height of immigration it was 80% from the south, but after it was less south dominated. my best guess would be that 70% or less of these 17 million are decended from southern italian immigrants. one other fact you overlook in this discussing of guido culture is that MANY of these people are multiple generation americans and have lost much of their relation to their italian culture through time elapse and inter-marriage.

There you go again. You

There you go again. You continue to level charges of blind elitism at writers,scholars, and anyone else you can find for not coming to grips with some "hidden" crisis of Italian American underachievement. You attempt to do so using data you present are literally meaningless without a comparison to the US as a whole. For example: the very same ACS data from the 2010 census show that the same percentage of Italian Americans and Americans at large over 25 have completed HS--28.7%. But you failed to note that while "only" 21.2%of Italian Americans over 25 have a BA, that's a rate almost 20% higher than Americans as a whole (17.7%). Your data also show that "only" 13.4% of Italian Americans have a degree beyond the bachelor's--but you fail to note that this is 30% greater than all Americans, only 10.4% of whom do. In short, 34.6% of Italian Americans over 25 have a BA or higher, compared to "only" 28.1% of all Americans. If there's a crisis here of underachievement here, it's everybody's, not our alone. I'll not comment on the insulting and dead-wrong characterization of us as knuckle-dragging "guidos" based on this sad misuse of data. For the record, here's the data summarized: As for income and occupation the same comparative trends hold. Until you can start showing how Italian Americans are comparatively disadvantaged vis a vis Americans as a whole, and why they are, your posts are without any real use to any of us.