WHEN LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM MEANS HAVING A PART-TIME JOB

October 11, 2013

While waiting for the barista at my favorite drinking hole to concoct my Pumpkin Spiced White Chocolate Mocha, I had the occasion to ask her how life was going. Randi looks right at me and says: "It's not too bad. I'm just trying to live the American Dream."

I replied, "Good for you." Then she gave me a very strange look and said, "By that, I mean, I'm just trying to work my 28 hour a week job."

That was the shot I heard across the proverbial bow. Since when has having a part-time job become the American Dream?

In the 1950's and most of the 60's the American Dream was a house, one or two cars in the driveway, a dog, a cat, and a job which paid the bills and allowed you to put some cash into savings.

Then came the Great Society, credit cards with their temptation to borrow in order to purchase stuff, government managed and regulated business and the societal manipulation of the late 60's and 70's. By then, the American Dream became a car, a nice apartment and a job that paid the utilities and rent.

Since the end of the Clinton Administration and most noticeably since the Fall of 2008, the American Dream is a job, some food, a used car or moped and a room to rent.

Enter Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office, the researchers at the Heritage Foundation and the actuaries who study trends and analyze demands to set premium prices for insurance, have all but confirmed that the American Dream will be simply to have enough money netted in your pay check to cover healthcare insurance. Forget the moped and apartment.

When I landed my first job as a production assistant at a local radio station, my dad expressed his happiness that I would be able to have cash of my own and encouraged me to save for the future. I won't forget that part of the father-son talk when he said "if you’re willing to work hard, you can be successful and build a good life for you and your family."

That’s what millions of Americans have believed for generations. But is it still true today?

A few weeks ago, PBS aired a two-part series on Frontline entitled "Two American Families" which chronicled the Stanleys and the Neumans of Milwaukee as they struggle for two decades to make ends meet — only to fall further behind. It’s a familiar story to so many Americans over the past twenty years.

Many now believe that the plight of the Stanleys and the Neumans is an everyday thing. To only a handful of people the American Dream remains a beacon of hope. But like my barista, Randi, most believe that the dream is dead. We are entering a generation in which the phrase "American Dream" will never be used or heard. Ask a typical Sophomore in High School what it means and he or she will most likely look at you puzzled and say: "Never heard of it."

While the government runs up trillions in debt and regulates every which way of life, the average American family has been reduced to survival mode.

Chris Murray says: "If I can make it to the end of my life without having to live out of a shopping cart, I'll call it a success. I'm honestly not joking and I have a law degree."

Chuck Beginski says: "The American dream is to someday get a job that pays enough to pay off your student loans before you die."

John Manager says: "To me, there isn't much of an American Dream. After three years out of work, I'm just focused on survival. Got no time or money for dreams."

Think about it: "No time or money for dreams." What has this world become when you can't even dream?

President Barack Obama, his fellow Democrats and most of the GOP in Congress (collaborators all), have nearly finished eliminating the middle class. After Obamacare is fully implemented, there will be the have's (1-2%) and the have nots (the rest of us). Right now, the middle class worries more about holding on for dear life than about climbing the ladder to riches.

The Great Recession exacerbated this decline. Sixty percent of the job losses in those years occurred in middle-income jobs. The recovery, instead of restoring those jobs, has replaced them with low-wage positions. And the middle class, which once drove American prosperity with its purchasing power and stability, is shrinking and will all but completely disappear if the economy tanks due to the huge debt.

Being middle class has always meant two separate things: affluence (having a solid income) and security (being able to maintain your quality of life from year to year). For the first several decades after World War II, they appeared to be one and the same. Social norms such as low divorce rates, workplace norms such as lifelong employment and generous benefits, and government-run social insurance helped to insulate people from life’s twists and turns. A high income guaranteed economic security—this was easy to assume.

That assumption began to change in the 70s. U.S. manufacturing started to slow, then contract, battered by competition first from Germany and Japan, and later from China and East Asia. Successive oil crises wreaked havoc on energy costs. A period of inflation and sluggish growth produced a mashed-together word, “stagflation.” And the increasing use of corporate revenues to benefit shareholders instead of workers undermined the social contract between labor and management.

These developments took a toll on workers’ incomes. The hourly compensation of the average U.S. worker rose by nearly 94 percent, adjusted for inflation, between 1948 and 1973, but by only 10 percent from 1973 to 2008, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Since Obama took office, the average wage has declined by 7 percent.

Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, says "even after the recovery started, typical wages have continued to fall, and education and health care costs continue to go up—at somewhat slower rates than before, but they’re still nasty price surprises.” Families spend, on average, 75 percent more for health insurance (adjusted for inflation) than they did a generation ago. It's expected to increase over 140 percent by 2015.

This squeeze between income and expenses has rattled many Americans’ assumptions of economic security. Americans can no longer count on a steady and rising income. Incomes have been volatile.

In this day of scarcity and despair, one would think the government would take some of the burden off of the diminishing middle class. But that won't happen as the middle class is the target. After all, they pay the taxes. The rich are privileged or park their booty offshore in tax sheltered countries; the poor are on government subsidies and are making equal or more than the average middle-class worker!

Think about this: If the Federal Government would downsize percentage-wise as the average American Middle Class family has had to do over the last five years, then it could balance the budget in one year and pay off the debt in twenty-five years, all without having to raise any more taxes.

But if anyone thinks the government would commit to downsizing itself, as the average American business has had to do, then that person will be severely disappointed and should be committed to a frontal lobotomy.

Yes, we have scaled back the meaning of the American Dream. But there is hope! Remember, minus massive civil unrest (which would justify the President invoking martial law), Obama will leave office on January 20, 2017 and if enough Americans are still around craving for what the American Dream once was, then the Democrats and establishment Republicans will be kept out of the White House when the next election rolls around on November 8, 2016.


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