An Anxious America

Newsweek has a great piece in its current issue about the current economic state of America and the growing anxiety among Americans. The article, written by David Frum, proposes the possibility that the golden age of America is over and the idea that every generation will do better than the previous one is eroding. The article is filled with compelling statistics to make the case, and a lot of them are alarming. Here are some startling statistics regarding young people.

According to Frum’s article, families headed by people under 35 are 70 percent poorer today than they were in 1984, due to lower wages, student debt, and more expensive housing. As of 2010, students that borrowed money to finance their education had an average debt of $25,000. Meanwhile, that same year, the unemployment rate for college grads hit 9.1 percent. This does not count the countless number of grads underemployed.  Meanwhile, two-thirds of young Americans don’t complete college, and for high school graduates with no college degree, the job situation is even more dire. Frum writes, “They  earn less, in nominal dollars, than their counterparts of 40 years ago. They are far less likely to be protected by health insurance. Their chances of marrying, staying married, and being happy within marriage have all collapsed compared with a generation ago.”

The end of the article points out that during the last great economic crisis, in 1929 into the 1930s, there was much more government action in the form of the New Deal and other innovations. But, as Frum points out, it’s not likely anything like that will be proposed again, at least not in this era, due to the anti-government stance the GOP has adopted and the likelihood that that party will at least still control the House of Representatives after the fall election.  As a political junkie, I’m also betting that the GOP has a decent chance of winning the Senate too, due to the fact the Dems have a slim majority there, and they have to defend 24 seats, far fewer than the GOP. But I’m betting on President Obama winning re-election. However, his plans to improve the economy, largely through raising taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, will be stymied with a GOP-controlled Congress. They’ve already blocked several of his jobs  and tax bills over the last three and a half years.

Frum ends the article with a haunting assessment, writing, “Many today fear that a new America is being shaped in this economic crisis-an America in which only a talented and fortunate few will find opportunities on a global scale, while the working many will experience a long slow decline in their living standards and life chances. Many fear that the days when it meant something special to be an American are drawing to a close.”

He also poses the question that if indeed the golden age of America is over, then what will the future look like? Will college students continue to be saddled with debt and unable to find full-time jobs that lead to a comfortable middle-class life? Will people without college degrees, especially young white males, struggle because there are fewer manufacturing jobs than there were decades ago?

If the economy does improve, it seems unlikely it will happen within the next year or two. July’s job report showed that 160,000 new jobs were added, about 60,000 more than expected, but the jobs reports from the previous two months were dismal. Frum predicts it will be at least another half a decade until the U.S. is back to nearly full employment. Meanwhile,  how will America be shaped and defined in that long stretch of time? It’s clear that this ongoing economic crisis/recovery is going to have a lasting impact, especially in regards to the outlook and attitudes of Americans.

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