I remember growing up in the Land of Opportunity. All a person had to do was "apply themselves, and then work like hell, to build a better future ..."
I haven't felt that way in a long, long time ... and apparently for some 'good', not so obvious, reasons ...
In Issue: July/August 2013 -- Saturday Evening Post
by Hedrick Smith [Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist]
We are literally Two Americas, remarkably out of touch with each other -- the fortunate living the American Dream but lacking any practical comprehension of how the other half are suffering, unaware of the enervating toll of economic despair on the unfortunate half, many of whom just two or three years before had counted themselves among the fortunate.
The Pew survey documented a class split in America. Among the losers, the picture was bleak: Two-thirds said their family’s overall financial condition had worsened; 60 percent said they had to dig into savings or retirement funds to take care of current costs; 42 percent had to borrow money from family and friends to pay their bills; 48 percent had trouble finding medical care or paying for it. The psychological toll was heavy. By contrast, the other half, the relative winners, admitted to some problems such as stock market losses but described their woes as modest and manageable.
In 1980, for example, 70 percent of Americans who worked at companies with 100 or more employees got health insurance coverage fully paid for by their employers. But from the 1980s onward, employers began requiring their employees to cover an increasing portion of the health costs. Other employers dropped company-financed health plans entirely, saying they could not afford them.
The switch offered big savings for employers. According to pension expert Brooks Hamilton, the lifetime pension system cost companies from 6 to 7 percent of their total payroll, but they spent only 2 to 3 percent on matching contributions for 401(k) plans. Often those savings went directly into corporate profits and bigger stock options bonuses for the CEO and other top executives.
Foster: Idea of ‘two Americas’ true
by John D. Foster, news-journal.com, Longview Texas -- Nov 30, 2013
The article [Saturday Evening Post], based on Smith’s book, “Who Stole The American Dream?”, explains that a fortunate few carry on like before the Great Recession from 2008 to 2010, often blind to the millions who suffer with poor health coverage, weak job choices and chronic debt.
“Over the past three decades, we have become Two Americas. We are no longer one large family with shared prosperity and shared political and economic power as we were in the decades following Word War II. Today we are a sharply divided country — divided by power, money, and ideology,” Smith wrote.
“The psychological toll was heavy (for the losers). By contrast, the other half of relative winners admitted some problems such as stock market losses, but described their woes as modest and manageable,” Smith added.
The numbers tell a similar story. In 2008, American households lost $11.1 trillion, close to one-fifth of their total accumulated private wealth. More trillions evaporated in the next four years with housing prices falling steadily for five straight years. These staggering figures also dealt a blow to Americans’ psyche as their personal safety nets were shredded.
Who knew that pursuing the American Dream, would ultimately mean waking up to a dreary treadmill, in the Land of ever-expanding Quicksand ...
Well apparently Hedrick Smith knew ... or at least he has recently uncovered ...
The Seismic Economic and Political Changes that Transformed the American Dream
The Political Changes that Transformed the American Dream
link to video
For Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith, the American Dream depends upon the prosperity of middle class. Ray Suarez talks to Smith about his latest book, "Who Stole the American Dream?" for more on what needs to change to restore the American Dream, economically, politically and culturally.
RAY SUAREZ: The story you tell, one of the striking parts of it is that who knew in the early to mid-'70s that we'd some day look back on that as the good old days...
HEDRICK SMITH: Well, they were living the American dream. They had pretty steady jobs. They had rising pay.
They had benefits, health care; 85 percent of the people who worked for companies of over 100 employees had health care, had retirement payments, a monthly check until you died on top of your Social Security, could afford to buy a home, pay off that mortgage over 30 years, and hope that your kids would do better.
That's a big chunk for an awful lot of people.
It made America the envy of the world. It let Richard Nixon go to Moscow and tell Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, we have a classless society.
RAY SUAREZ: That is also -- the people living that dream are also numerically the largest part of the United States.
HEDRICK SMITH: Sure.
RAY SUAREZ: How did they become so politically weak?
HEDRICK SMITH: Well, they were very strong back then.
As you know, Ray, the environmental movement was strong, put pressure on Washington.
The labor movement was strong, put pressure on General Motors and General Electric and U.S. Steel and so forth.
The civil rights movement put pressure on Washington to open up the American Dream to blacks and other minorities.
Part of what happened to them was, it was so successful. But part of what happened to them was, there was a power shift. There was a tremendous change of power in Washington. And that had a big effect on the ability of middle-class Americans to achieve the American dream.
And the other thing that happened is what I call wedge economics, the splitting of the American middle class off from the gains of the national economy, so that today you can see the economy improving bit by bit, but middle-class people aren't doing that much better.
People at the top are doing real well. Corporations are reporting profits, but the people in the middle aren't doing that well.
Back in the old days, back in the heyday of the middle class, everybody shared in that prosperity. Today, everybody doesn't share in that prosperity. And that's why so many people feel so much pain.
RAY SUAREZ: There are tons of books covering this era that take a cut of it just as a political story or just as an economic story or even as a cultural story.
The story you're trying to tell here needs to be all those things. I think you're saying you have to look at it all in an interlocking way to understand it.
HEDRICK SMITH: Absolutely. Such a good point you're making here.
What we forgot was that middle-class prosperity, economics, depended on middle class power, public politics.
And, today, this gross inequality that you see in income is accompanied by a starkly unequal democracy, symbolized by the super PACs, symbolized by the fact that business lobbyists -- business spends 65 times as much money on lobbyists as labor does.
There are 12,500, roughly, business lobbyists, registered lobbyists lobbying Congress in the administration, and only 400 for labor.
So, you have this very lopsided economic situation right alongside this very lopsided political situation.
Hedrick Smith elsewhere, ekes out a prescription to forestall the fade from the heydays, of Opportunities Gone-by:
Smith’s saga of economic and political polarization is so downbeat and devastating that there seems little hope for his modest blueprint for change:My, howa 10-step “Domestic Marshall Plan” based on new public-private commitments to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, foster high-tech growth and a manufacturing renaissance, enact a reformed tax code favoring domestic job creation, etc.Smith also pines for new, transcendent leadership and a progressive populism that values jobs and fairness and stands up to the “influence of money in elections and on legislative policy-making.”
instead of with one strong working voice, demanding:
“a steady job with decent pay and health benefits, rising living standards, a home of your own, secure retirement, and the hope that your children would enjoy a better future.”Which in prior economic eras, was something known as, simply the promise of the American Dream.