NakedCapitalism, July 29, 2017
The US is as divided as it has ever been. The simplest marker is the stark increase in inequality of both income and opportunity. Chetty et. al. (2017) find that the percentage of children who are able to rise above the income levels of their parents has fallen from 90% for cohorts born in 1940 to 50% for those born in 1980.
Divisions in the US go well beyond the income arena, and in ways that are particularly worrisome. Hope is an important channel driving people’s willingness to invest in the future. Early research on well-being work highlights its particular importance for people with less means, for whom making such investments requires a greater sacrifice of current consumption than it does for the rich. In addition to widening gaps in opportunity, the prosperity gap in the US has led to rising inequality in beliefs, hopes, and aspirations, with those who are left behind economically the least hopeful and the least likely to invest in their futures.
A Tale of Two Americas
There are, indeed, two Americas. Those at the top of the income distribution (including the top of the middle class) increasingly lead separate lives, with barriers to reaching the upper class being very real, if not explicit. Those at the top have high levels of hope for the future and make investments in themselves and in their children’s health, education, and knowledge more generally. Those at the bottom have much lower levels of hope and they tend to live day by day, consumed with daily struggles, high levels of stress, and poor health.
There are many markers of the differences across these two Americas, ranging from education levels and job quality to marriage and incarceration rates to life expectancy. Indeed, the starkest evidence of this lack of faith in the future is the marked increase in premature deaths – driven largely but not only by an increase in preventable deaths (such as via suicide and drug over-dose) among middle-aged uneducated whites.
There are even differences in the words that these two Americas use. Common words in wealthy America reflect investments in health, knowledge acquisition, and the future: iPads and Baby Bjorns, foam rollers and baby joggers, cameras, and exotic travel destinations such as Machu Picchu. The words that are common in poor America – such as hell, stress, diabetes, guns, video games, and fad diets – reflect short-time horizons, struggles, and lack of hope.
The places with more people who lack hope for the future tend to have higher levels of premature mortality driven by ‘deaths of despair’, i.e. those driven by suicide and/or drug and alcohol addiction.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for solving widespread desperation and its negative manifestations. It is even more difficult to conceive of solutions in a political cycle that hinges on daily crises and scandals. Not surprisingly, the proposals coming out of the current administration are simply to make across-the-board cuts in social programmes – far from the thinking required to make these programmes part of the solution.
15% of prime-age males are out of the labour force – and this is projected to grow to 25% by mid-century. The technological displacement of low-skilled jobs is here to stay.
Здешние политиканы, «эксперты», подконтрольные ЦРУ СМ»И» часто нахваливают псевдодемократическую, якобы процветающую Америку.
Те, кто любит «наших американских (государственных) партнеров», «забывают» о грязных, злых уродах США. О таких, как коварный и крайне опасный мошенник, расист, лжец, неофашист и убийца Дональд Трамп. И о таких, как порочный Конгресс, кровавые милитаристы США, нацистские ФБР — ЦРУ, лживые американские СМ”И”…
Арнольд Локшин, политэмигрант из США