The American Dream? Really?

Differences in national income equality around...
Map of the Gini coefficient...purple countries are a mess! Image via Wikipedia

Great essay in the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail:

For many Americans, the recession began well before 2007, and it’s far from over. It’s become a lost decade of fading opportunity for workers, longer and more frequent bouts of joblessness and declining family incomes.

Obscured by the housing bubble and cheap credit, the well-being of working Americans was already threatened by powerful structural forces when the Great Recession hit. Technology supplanted routine work of all kinds, leaving millions with skills that employers no longer need. Offshoring of work to China and India destroyed millions of labour-intensive factory jobs. Low interest rates artificially pumped up wealth and consumption, but didn’t steer enough investment into the roots of the economy.

Now, more than eight million jobs are gone, and the country is looking at the stark prospect of several more years of unusually high unemployment. Roughly half of the 14 million unemployed Americans have now been out of work for more than six months.

And for the first time on record, family incomes are actually falling. New figures this week from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the median income for working-age households fell 10 per cent between 2000 and 2010, even as women worked more hours.

In 1912, an Italian statistician and sociologist named Corrado Gini created the Gini coefficient to measure differences in income.

Here’s a recent piece from The Atlantic on income inequality:

The U.S., in purple with a Gini coefficient of 0.450, ranks near the extreme end of the inequality scale. Looking for the other countries marked in purple gives you a quick sense of countries with comparable income inequality, and it’s an unflattering list: Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador. A number are currently embroiled in or just emerging from deeply destabilizing conflicts, some of them linked to income inequality: Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia.

Canadians never had a “Canadian dream” so we/they don’t do a lot of hand-wringing over the loss of it. They’re used to higher taxes and lower salaries. They don’t have a constitution offering the promise — or the tantalizing lure of — happiness.

Here’s a powerful blog post about how utterly unequal salaries and wages have become in the U.S.

Here’s a lucid blog post from Open Salon on why Americans, still, remain shockingly docile in the face of this insanity.

I loved this post from The Washington Post:

But this is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium.

The organizers of Occupy Wall Street are fighting to upend the system. But what gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.

As for the Wall Street protestors, writes William Rivers Pitt:

They’re staying put, with many more on the way – to New York as well as every major city from sea to shining sea –  and none of them are going anywhere else until people like you are taken from your citadels in handcuffs and made to pay for the ongoing rape of what was once quaintly called the American Dream…a dream that used to be something other than a dated metaphor, and can be something true and real and genuine once again, but only after we pave you under, and walk over you, on our way to a better, brighter future.

And here’s one of the smartest pieces I have ever read, originally published in a magazine written by academics, on how Americans keeping choosing to focus on gender as a safe(r) proxy for class when discussing the fallout of each recession. History matters!

Here are some photos of the protest on Wall Street, chosen for Freshly Pressed.

How do you feel about the American dream these days?

How’s it working for you?

12 thoughts on “The American Dream? Really?

  1. It is only when people realise the power they have in a mass action that things will change. Everywhere in the world this is true. Have you read anything by Naomi Klien? The Shock Doctrine is very good.

    A very interesting post with good links, thanks for this.


  2. Thanks! The great challenge of living in zero-sum, winner-take-all, individualist America is collective action that…gets some real change! I have zero faith in any legislators to do anything differently, even with all these protests. They are utterly beholden to the corporate interests who fund them and spend millions annually, in addition, legally lobbying them.

    The marginalized — the unemployed, under-employed, gave up looking, low-wage slaves — have no lobby so they/we have no way to make real, lasting change.

    I read her first book (she is Canadian, from Toronto, as am I) but have not read the second. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. Yes I read her No-Logo book ages ago. Took it on holiday with me. A mistake as I ended up so angry I got stressed reading it. 🙂 Had to keep putting it down and reading other stuff inbetween.

      I think more needs to be spoken out loud. So people don’t just think there is nothing to be done.

  3. I am not sure why you say that canadians do not have a “Canadian Dream”. It may be that canadians are not as loud as our country to the south. Canada has faired better than the states because we have a Government that has a better control over the “Greed” of the banking industry for one. We have a tiny population in comparison so the taxes need to be higher but as a result we have the joy of universal health care where the poorest have the same access as the wealthy. I bet there are a lot of now jobless people in the states who would love that.

  4. Maggie, I grew up in Canada and my family and friends still live there. I’m very aware what Canadians value and why, and why the American economy is in the tank.

    My point was not to attack Canada but to point out that Americans have this notion of a “dream” and Canadians generally do not in the same way. I lived 30 years in Canada, 22 in the U.S. I see both pretty clearly.

  5. Pingback: Is It Time To Buy My Bags of Beans? | Crgardenjoe's Blog

  6. SillyWhabbit

    I am part of that 99%. I have been for years. It has been sad to watch a whole country catch up to me.
    The only chance we have of continueing to be heard and taken seriously is to keep the anarchists out of our protests.
    It would also be nice if some of my fellow Americans could actually educate themselves on issues, stop voting for a pretty package with nothing inside but the ability to spit vitriolic hate, and stop voting against their (and mine!) best interest because someone sold them a fake bill of sale on what makes a person patriotic.
    Excuse me, but it is patriotic to fight for what is best for your country as opposed to what is just best for me. It is treason to try and destroy, shock, privatize and loot your country.
    Thank you for letting me vent.

    1. Vent on!

      I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. I am as offended by the religious right as the self-righteous; the smug rich as those who keep fantasizing, in the of very clear evidence to the contrary, they they, too, can have an 8,000 sf mansion in Greenwich and a size 00 wife wearing a 10-carat diamond These rich folk are some of the people I served (and boy do they like SERVICE) while working retail and the rest of us are merely specks of dirt on their Bentley windshield. We do not even exist as anything even vaguely real. They have bought the politicians everyone knows it.

      Maybe now a few more people are waking up to this reality.

  7. Hello, and thank you for the link to my blog!
    It is funny, I wrote the post “How Much Should We Earn” before the Occupy movement was on my radar, but I have been suffering my entire adult life, (20 + years of working now) never being paid enough to live comfortably and safely.
    I am Canadian, and it is true as one of your readers mentioned that our tax structure is a bit more fair, and I will acknowledge that is a bit more fair and not much more.
    Despite different political stories, Canadians are suffering too. The numbers are just smaller.
    I am excited that people are finally talking about this as the poverty of masses affects everyone negatively. Regardless of our position in life, we should care that others cannot earn a living as that affects everyone. There are social consequences to rising poverty and we need to get that and get on board.
    I really do believe that we have trememdous power to create change and it is a relief to see that people are starting to get that.
    Thanks for the post! I’ll be looking forward to checking out more links!

    1. I thought it was such a great post.

      The problem right now is exacerbated by zero-sum, scarcity-driven Darwinianism — if YOU win (a job, a raise, a promotion) I (and my spouse or sweetie and or my kids and/or my grandkids) lose. Which — when there are six (!) people for each job (in some sectors) — is now true. So it’s you or me, pal! I hate it and do not see any clear way past it. I agree we have to care. But when you are scared shitless, compassion evaporates mighty quick.

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