American Dream Is Officially Dead

Today’s New York Times has a front page story confirming what we DFH’s have been saying for years, which is that the American dream is over, and if you’re “born a poor black kid” in America today (or poor white kid or poor Latino kid) … chances are pretty good that you’re going to stay poor when you become an adult:

But many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican candidate for president, warned this fall that movement “up into the middle income is actually greater, the mobility in Europe, than it is in America.” National Review, a conservative thought leader, wrote that “most Western European and English-speaking nations have higher rates of mobility.” Even Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who argues that overall mobility remains high, recently wrote that “mobility from the very bottom up” is “where the United States lags behind.”

Liberal commentators have long emphasized class, but the attention on the right is largely new.

I have written about this a lot but it’s always good to get validation from The Paper Of Record. Just one thing, though: why is the news for the New York Times that Republicans are talking about this issue? Not, you know, that this thing has happened in America to begin with? That the American myth of a classless society and mobility up the ladder is dead? I mean, really, talk about burying the lead? Hello?

And another thing: You have to be pretty brain-dead (or drunk on conservative Kool-Aid) to think folks like Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan and the National Review give a shit about American mobility — because correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we just have Newt Gingrich telling us that poor kids in the projects only do illegal jobs like selling drugs, and Herman Cain telling us that if you’re poor it’s your own fault, and every Republican from Tennessee’s own Ron Ramsey to Eric Cantor telling us that unemployed people are just getting fat and lazy off their unemployment checks? That the social safety net is “a lifestyle”?

So now that some Republicans are pretending to notice inequality and lack of opportunity in America, why do we think their answers will be anything other than the usual “tax cuts, deregulation and shred the social safety net” which led us here to begin with?

Le Sigh. But I digress. Back to the issue at hand, which is that people in evul-Socialist-librul-Commie countries with free education and socialized medicine actually have more social mobility than the supposed land of opportunity, the good ol’ USA:

At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.

Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

By emphasizing the influence of family background, the studies not only challenge American identity but speak to the debate about inequality. While liberals often complain that the United States has unusually large income gaps, many conservatives have argued that the system is fair because mobility is especially high, too: everyone can climb the ladder. Now the evidence suggests that America is not only less equal, but also less mobile.

John Bridgeland, a former aide to President George W. Bush who helped start Opportunity Nation, an effort to seek policy solutions, said he was “shocked” by the international comparisons. “Republicans will not feel compelled to talk about income inequality,” Mr. Bridgeland said. “But they will feel a need to talk about a lack of mobility — a lack of access to the American Dream.”

Yes well surely the answer is to abolish the estate tax, make sure every student graduating from college is saddled with crushing debt, and maintain the costliest, least efficient healthcare delivery system in the Western world. That’s the ticket!

C’mon, New York Times. We’ve all seen this movie before. It’s an election year, which means this is the year Republicans pretend to care about the little guy and trot out their same tired ideas which have failed from the get-go. Meanwhile, Democrats will let another opportunity to seize the national conversation slide by because they’re too scared of looking liberal. Pfft.


Filed under American trends, economy, Media, New York Times

10 responses to “American Dream Is Officially Dead

  1. PurpleGirl

    My father was an electrician and a member of New York Local 3, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He didn’t go to college although he attended Stuyvesant High School because his family couldn’t afford to send him. He probably would have been a good engineer. He worked in general construction, as a plumber, a painter/plasterer, before he joined an electrical construction company. (He became a union member when the company was organized circa 1951.)

    I’m the baby of three children. I’m the one who went to college and graduated. I’ve worked in various fields — law, publishing, non profit administration and fund-raising. As far as income goes, I will not make any where close to what he did, nor enjoy the benefits he had. Indeed, he worked up to retirement age (among the last jobs he did was installing light fixtures and finishing work at the World Trade Towers); me, I’m unemployed now for three years and have 6 years to go before “retirement”. On the surface it looks like I’m doing okay, but I know that I’m stuck where I am and am on the verge of poverty. I played by the rules and am pissed that they changed the rules and that any number of my friends and other people are in the same sinking boat.

    • God I’m sorry to hear your story but as I’m sure you well know, your experience is shared by thousands. I’m thinking it will be decades before this country recovers.

      In the meantime, move to India! That’s apparently where all the jobs are.


  2. Randy

    Compassionate Conservatism Redux. Puke. I know any credible threat of violence will lead to banning from this here forum but when I read this crap I really experience a powerful impulse to break something.

  3. Randy

    Forgive me for double dipping but your choice of India as an example is not coincidental. There are about 700 million (roughly twice the pop of the U.S.) people under the age of 35 in India. They are mostly well educated, multilingual and come from a country unmatched in religious and cultural diversity. I work with an Indian physician who remarked in passing one day that a third of the undergraduate class at MIT was Indian. I stipulate that I have not verified the accuracy of that data but I use it to make a point. The brown people are coming to the market place. How many fences or English only laws are going to stop them? Yet as we rant about the inequalities of the economic system let us not forget that 4 short years ago there was a candidate for Vice President of The United States of America of one of the major political parties who practiced EXORCISMS OF WITCHES! The winner of the GOP Iowa Causus (ok it was a tie, sue me) blames American decline on Sodomites! I fear our focus on supply and demand may muddy the water.


    OK. I’ll get back on my meds and go to my room now.


    • I’m actually reading Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post American World” right now and am on the chapter about India. So no, it was not accidental. While India remains very poor, it’s also one of the most active economies where people really can experience the storied mobility Americans seem to have lost.

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  5. Mike G

    why is the news for the New York Times that Republicans are talking about this issue?

    Issues don’t exist until they are validated by the Repukes. Until that point it’s just the illegitimate whining of Libruls Who Hate Murka(TM).

  6. PurpleGirl

    SoBe — thanks for your thoughts. Of my friends, one friend was out of work for three and a half years before she got another job at a quite lower salary, her husband has been out for four years now, another friend took early retirement rather than wait to lose her job, another friend has changed from computer programming to proofreading after being out for a number of years (originally he took a buyout package but then had trouble finding a computer job). All of us are middle or late boomers.

  7. Newt seemed surprised that the NAACP didn’t welcome him with open arms to address them. Loaded arms, maybe.

  8. I read FZ’s article as well, but my takeaway was that India’s economy has been poorly managed and they are anticipating some serious setbacks. Did I get that wrong?