The American Dream: Maybe it’s all in our Heads
Blog Date: 11/18/11
For many years, America has been the “place to be” if your dream is to prosper. Many people from many different countries throughout history have come to America seeking freedom, success, and just a better life in general. What many people don’t realize is that an integral part of this “American Dream” is the strength of the middle class. The middle class, in many ways, is the reflection of all the values and ideals for which America stands. The typical middle class American has been the envy of the world– he enjoys (for the most part) freedom, success and prosperity, especially in comparison to the citizens of many other countries. It is arguable that the middle class is what has made America so great; however, many statistics today show that the middle class in America is slowly being squeezed into two broad categories of citizens: the Haves and Have-Nots– the wealthy, and everyone else.
Take a look at the market for consumer and retail goods. A key player in the retail of goods and services for the middle class has always been Wal-mart. When taking a look Wal-mart’s performance in the past few years, we see that they haven’t being doing so well. Instead, the companies that have seen the most growth are companies in the luxury end of the market, and companies that are– for lack of a term– on the opposite end of that spectrum. Family Dollar stores, which provide relatively cheap goods and products, have seen steady growth in the past few years, while companies such as Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co. have also seen significant growth. This demonstrates that during this recessionary time, the wealthy have been spending just as much as before, if not more, while the middle class has not. This growth in the high and low ends of the spectrum of consumer goods can be seen as one example of how the middle class is actually starting to disappear in America. In addition, a report by the Census Bureau states that the percentage of families under the poverty line is now at levels not seen since 1992. On top of that, average household income has fallen to levels not seen since about 1999. Again, this demonstrates the widening economic gap America is facing today.
However, this trend has not gone unnoticed. Clear proof of this is the Occupy Wall Street Movement. This is an indisputable signal that many Americans feel they are not being treated fairly. It is possible to see OWS, at its fundamental level, as an outcry against growing class disparity. I believe, as I am sure many of you do, that this trend is not positive at all. The things that have always made America great are disappearing. If this continues as it has been, we could (in an extreme scenario) see America being transformed into a country where the majority of the population is in poverty while only few are at the top. The standard of living we currently enjoy may severely drop. Though I do not think we will ever reach such a point, I believe it is important for everyone, including policy-makers, academics, and even the typical citizen to reassess the broad implications that this widening economic gap could possibly have on our great country’s future.