Featured image: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/nyregion/political-cartoons-are-on-exhibit-at-hofstra.html
In the last few months there has been a series of unrelated studies which come together to create a very sobering picture of the United States today. There are lots of reasons for the results they report. Books could and have been and will be written about the state of the States in the 21st century, but these studies measure decline in a very concrete way.
When I was in graduate school, the premise of decline was wildly debatable. Scholars argued about whether the next generations, those of our children and grandchildren, would have a lower standard of living than us. It was a controversial proposition then. It is a fact today. From an article in The Street:
Using the year 2000 as the numerical base from which to “zero” all of the numbers, real wages peaked in 1970 at around $20/hour. Today the average worker makes $8.50/hour — more than 57% less than in 1970. And since the average wage directly determines the standard of living of our society, we can see that the average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by over 57% over a span of 40 years.
According to the New York Times:
The middle class, if defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year, shrank in the final decades of the 20th century. For a welcome reason, though: More Americans moved up into what might be considered the upper middle class or the affluent. Since 2000, the middle class has been shrinking for a decidedly more alarming reason: Incomes have fallen.
How do people deal with this stagnation? I suspect we all have anecdotal evidence: young people are living at home longer, they are more dependent on their families in general, finding a good job is difficult, pay is low, and the cost of living takes every dollar. The evidence is that we are not coping well. Drug addiction rates and alcoholism are up, depression rates are higher, and suicide rates are high.
Why does it hit whites harder? That is where expectations come in (see the Esquire study on rage). White Americans have, as has been pointed out a lot lately, a culture of white privilege. We are used to the doors being open, and opened, for us. Yes, I say us, even after growing up poor and struggling working class. White privilege has meant that we have unspoken expectation of doing reasonably well. I grew up with 4 siblings. My father worked most often a couple of jobs at outdoor physical labor in construction, 7 days a week. We siblings are all doing better than my parents. Our children, to a one, are not doing better than us. We had little doubt we would. We expected it, as did our parents.
When we don’t live up to our own and our parents expectations, as people who are reputedly at the top of the heap in the US, whites, a lot of self doubt seeps in. Add to that the political rhetoric and propaganda that minorities and immigrants are doing well at our expense. The sense of economic decline is accentuated by this relative decline.
And for white men? The lost ground is not just economic and racial, it is gender. Medical and Law schools often have majority female enrollment. The enrollment rates for females has eclipsed male for some time now, according to Forbes:
The male-female ratio in higher education has been steadily moved in favor of the females ever since the 1970s. Total enrollment figures show that females outnumbered their male counterparts for the first time in the late 1970s, and they have steadily increased their numerical advantage ever since. The superiority first came in public universities, but soon private universities saw female enrollment surpass male enrollment.
Ironically, women and non-anglos are still not doing as well as white males. It is the perception of improvement for women and minorities, coupled with the relative loss for white men, fueled by political propaganda, that fuels the rage.
Here are the three studies. Death rates are up for middle-aged white Americans, mostly from substance abuse and suicide. Americans are enraged, with the highest levels being for whites. And the situation is not likely to change. This rich are taking the majority of the wealth, and the situation for the poor, working and middle classes is very unlikely to change.
Americans have woken up and realized that the American Dream was exactly that, an unrealizable dream. American is becoming majority minority (strange concept) and Politicians are happy to deflect attention from the rapacious rich 1% and divide and enrage the rest. This is the result.
“Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds”
Dying in Middle Age
Death rates are rising for middle-aged white Americans, while declining in other wealthy countries and among other races and ethnicities. The rise appears to be driven by suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse.
“American Rage: The Esquire/NBC News Survey”
LET’S BEGIN WITH THE BIG REVEALS: Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. White Americans are the angriest of all. And black Americans are more optimistic about the future of the country and the existence of the American dream. There are depths and dimensions, dark corners and subtle contours to our national mood, and setting aside the issue of who actually has a right to be angry and about what—these pages are neutral territory; everyone is allowed their beef—we found three main factors shaping American rage: … (expectations, empathy and experience).
Seventy-three percent of whites say they get angry at least once a day, as compared with 56 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans get angry at least once a day, as compared with 67 percent of Democrats.The least angry household-income brackets: the very rich ($150,000-plus) and the very poor ($15,000 and less). The most angry: the middle of the middle class
($50,000 to $74,999).
“The Debate on Whether America’s Best Days Are Past, or Ahead”
Moreover, the growing concentration of income means that whatever the growth rate, most of the population will barely share in its fruits. Altogether, Professor Gordon argues, the disposable income of the bottom 99 percent of the population, which has expanded about 2 percent per year since the late 19th century, will expand over the next few decades at a rate little above zero.