Jul 6, 2006

The Mugging of the American Dream Continues...

Dumbing Down of America, or, Getting Ahead by Adding More People in the Rear?
We often refer to America as the land of opportunity. Talk to everyone who's made it and he'll tell you that it is so. No surprise there. Compared to other countries the US has indeed been the New World in more ways than a physical description. I don't know if it's easier to make it today than it was in the "good ol' days", but I do know one way to improve your lot is through education. Statistically--you know those numbers that reveal what happens to most people--more Americans are working longer hours, have less job security, are more likely to be uninsured, and they can earn 73% more money over a working lifetime if they have a higher education degree!

As of July 1st, the cost of attending college got more expensive. OK, everything gets more expensive over time, but the question is whether the new pricing system of and the access to higher ed will prevent people from earning a degree. I assume if the economic pressures on the individual and the family become greater this task would also become harder. Actual family income has fallen. Sure certain consumer items have become cheaper, but the cost of living as relating to the money people make has been rising faster than their earning power.

Here's a great article that explains a lot more about the burden a student faces in earning a college degree. I assume that most of us would agree that it'd be good to have an educated populate, more competitive and more wealth-producing. Obviously, how we allocate our resources is a matter of national priorities. I often tell my students, it's all about the ..pizza; how we share it, the compromises on the toppings, the size of the slices, and who gets access to the table!

Talking about making a better life for oneself, I found out that the best predictor of a person social & economic status is his ..parents! Very few people escape this reality. Of course, if you interview the NBA stars, they could tell you that invariably they came from very poor backgrounds, started learning the game on concrete with a worn out basketball hitting a "basket" with a crooked rim and no net. Millions of young kids in poor neighborhoods are still playing the same game and dream of someday becoming another Michael Jordan. Actually, they "know" that they will do so. Unfortunately, way less than 1% ever manage to get a chance to become an NBA player.

Americans want to give a tax benefit to the heirs of the super-rich

This leads me to the question, why so many poor & middle-class Americans consistently vote against their own economic interest. The answer is simple, but not simplistic: they vote their dreams not their economic realities! As for that "dream," it's worth reading Bill Moyers's speech last year at the Take Back America conference where he cites numbers, personal observations, and actual experiences of real people. Here's a short excerpt for you to ponder:

..And the outlook is for more of the same. On the eve of George W. Bush's second inauguration The Economist - not exactly a Marxist rag - produced a sobering analysis of what is happening to the old notion that any American can get to the top. With income inequality not seen since the first Gilded Age (and this is The Economist editors speaking, not me) - with "an education system increasingly stratified with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries" and great universities "increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities" - with corporate employees finding it "harder...to start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchy by dint of hard work and self-improvement" - "with the yawning gap between incomes at the top and bottom" - the editors of The Economist - all friends of business and advocates of capitalism and free markets -- concluded that "The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society."

Puting higher education out of reach isn't a good thing for most Americans. It isn't a good thing for the long-term health of our country. I'd be the first one to admit that a higher ed degree should not be just a means to a better job, though economic success is a worthwhile goal. But I believe going through college should be an opportunity to further one's horizons, open his eyes to a greater world out there, acquire critical skills and a sharp inquisitive mind. This is progress! We should all be progressives, change things for the better--and, gosh, we need to improve a myriad of things to make a positive difference in the lives of our people. When it really matters, here & now.

PS1>Did I make this a political issue by referring to progressive values?
PS2>Fellow blogger Tuli has an interesting post which includes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert's essay, "Working for a Pittance". It's a great read.