Thirty-five years ago, babies born in the U.S. had an infant mortality rate equal to Germany. Today, American babies die at twice the rate of those in Germany.
Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. ranked 13th in life expectancy for girls among the 34 recognized industrial societies. Today we are ranked 29th out of those same 34 countries.
We have the highest teenage birth rate among the industrialized world.
One out of every four children in this country lives with a single parent, the highest rate by far in the industrialized world.
Our incarceration rate is triple what it was four decades ago, with an incarceration rate five times that of other wealthy democracies.
Economists from the University of Chicago, MIT and the University of Southern California conducted research to find out why our children die at a rate exponentially higher than European kids. Their conclusion? Staggering rates of income disparity, all stemming directly from the 1980's, the Era of Ronald Reagan and the beginning of the resurgence of the conservative movement.
"On nearly all indicators of mortality, survival and life expectancy, the United States ranks at or near the bottom among high-income countries,” says a report on the nation’s health by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.
What’s most shocking about these statistics is not how unhealthy they show Americans to be, compared with citizens of countries that spend much less on health care and have much less sophisticated medical technology. What is most perplexing is how stunningly fast the United States has lost ground.
The statistics above are taken from this article
by Eduardo Porter in today's New York Times
. As Porter states, "Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way." But as his analysis shows, it wasn't just lower wages caused by globalization and technological advancement that led to this dismal state of affairs (although those certainly played a part), but the unique failure of our U.S. government to respond to these developments:
[B]laming globalization and technological progress for the stagnation of the middle class and the precipitous decline in our collective health is too easy. Jobs were lost and wages got stuck in many developed countries.
What set the United States apart — what made the damage inflicted upon American society so intense — was the nature of its response. Government support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society together.
From the time most of us have even had a political memory we have had to listen to conservative ideology spewed at us, telling us that the U.S. was living in a "welfare state," that "handouts" to the poor were sapping our productivity and harming the "spirit" of the country. That if we only unleashed the power of Big Business through fostering "entrepreneurship" while cutting programs designed to support the rest of us, the nation would "regain" its stature and create vast sums of wealth for all of our citizens, with corporate profits leading us back to a mythical promised land. That shrinking government programs while cutting taxes for the richest would put wealth back into all our pockets and improve the quality of our lives. This was the dominant narrative in the 1980's, it was swallowed nearly whole and regurgitated by Bill Clinton in the 1990's, and reached its apotheosis in the 2000's prior to the Economic Crash presided over by George W. Bush and the same tax-cutting, supply-side ilk who sold it to us from the start, often in the guise of "deficit reduction." It is the same narrative that continues to paralyze our government's ability to respond to our citizens needs, now mutated into what we know as the "Tea Party."
Now this narrative has borne itself out to be nothing but a staggering lie. The reality is that beyond a meager Social Security and Medicare for the aged, both creations of Democratic Administrations, and with the constant demonization and derogation of Labor and Unions, there was not much at all to break the fall of ordinary Americans when trends like globalization appeared over the horizon:
A more compelling explanation is that when globalization struck at the jobs on which 20th-century America had built its middle class, the United States discovered that it did not, in fact, have much of a welfare state to speak of. The threadbare safety net tore under the strain.
Call it a failure of solidarity. American institutions, built from hostility toward collective solutions, couldn’t hold society together when the economic underpinning of full employment at a decent wage gave in.
"Hostility toward collective solutions" is polite terminology for "greed."
In searching for solutions, Porter weighs the benefits of education, but rightly concludes that the way education is structured in this country today it actually exacerbates inequality. One need only to examine the income levels of those victimized by the latest collapse of for-profit colleges, left clutching their near-worthless degrees, to understand why. He also points to attempts by Senator Elizabeth Warren and others to generate enthusiasm for lifting the payroll cap on Social Security to expand benefits for the elderly. But caring for the elderly is ultimately not our biggest problem. Ultimately the changes necessary to reverse the criminal damage already wreaked on us by the American Right and its malignant, self-serving ideology must be solved at the ballot box.
The challenge America faces is not simply a matter of equity. The bloated incarceration rates and rock-bottom life expectancy, the unraveling families and the stagnant college graduation rates amount to an existential threat to the nation’s future.
That is, perhaps, the best reason for hope. The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics, is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it.
So this election is not just "our time." It may be the only