Sunday, May 27, 2007

Waking Up From the American Dream

As Father’s Day approaches, a troubling question is raised by a new study: Will our children and grandchildren have a better life than our own?

The “American Mobility Report” shows young men today worse off financially than their fathers were at the same age, a reversal of the generational progress that has made the “Land of Opportunity” a reality for two centuries.

In 2004, the median income for a man in his 30s, a reliable predictor of lifetime earnings, was $35,010, 12% less than for men of the same age in 1974, their fathers’ income adjusted for inflation. A decade ago, median income for men in their 30s was $32,901, 5% higher than 30 years earlier.

This undercuts, the study suggests, the optimism that has “served as a powerful engine of growth and social cohesion” since pioneer days. In March, according to a Pew Research Center poll, almost three out of four Americans believed that “the rich just get richer while the poor just get poorer.”

This sagging confidence in the American Dream explains much of what is roiling our public life today. The debate over immigration reflects a clash between the hopes for a better life of those coming here and the fears of a worsening life they arouse in those whose ancestors came generations ago. Will there be enough for everybody?

The Bush years, by widening the gap between rich and poor, have exacerbated what the Report calls “a concern about the fairness of the game.”

Underlying many of the issues to be debated by the ’08 Presidential candidates is the question all this raises: If the nation’s up escalator has stopped, how do we get it going again or do we just keep arguing about who gets thrown off?

1 comment:

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