I’ve thought a lot about the concept of hope and its effect on my future since the loss of my job last year. Sometimes I don’t mind others telling me that things will be better soon but the realist in me tells me something different. When I was a young working person, I don’t think I ever thought of a time when I would join the ranks of the long term unemployed in mid-life. I watched as colleagues were terminated in groups but never followed their journeys after they left the company. I had a sense that it was difficult to get a job but as I was employed and drawing a good salary, it really didn’t affect me as it does now that I am in this position.
A recent article written by former New Jersey governor Jim Florio about America’s widening wealth gap really made me think more about this problem. “People who have worked their way into the middle class now face the specter of falling back into the ranks of the poor.” Mr. Florio’s assessment of the situation is troubling but also true. I never expected to be rich and was happy as a member of the middle class. But I know I don’t want to be poor but don’t know what to do to avoid it. I haven’t been able to find a comparable level position in the financial industry or any other industry and my applications for entry level and retail positions have been ignored. If I don’t find a job soon, any job, I run the risk of losing my house.
The American Dream is a happy one until we wake up to reality.
The full text of James Florio’s article is copied below:
Times of Trenton
May 15, 2013
America’s widening wealth gap and the end of upward mobility
If we needed any confirmation that there are huge disparities in wealth and income in this country, a new report confirms that the rich are getting richer and the rest aren’t. Using U.S. Census Bureau data on levels of family wealth, the Pew Research Center arrives at some fairly stark conclusions.
The “Great Recession” officially ended in 2009. Since then, the wealth of the top 7 percent of families went from $2.48 million to $3.17 million.
The comparable figure for the bottom 93 percent was a loss, from $139,896 to $133,817. That represents a 28 percent increase vs. a 4 percent loss. Some have argued that our dysfunctional, polarized political system has resulted in these inequitable, twisted outcomes. It may be, rather, that the unfair distribution of family wealth and income has resulted in our uncivil venomous politics.
All of political history shows continuing tension among groups of people divided into those who are benefiting from the existing system and those who aren’t and, therefore, advocate change.
In normal times, this struggle and tension stay within acceptable bounds of moderation and are conducted civilly, due to the expectation that change is attainable.
However, in some periods, the stakes become so high for each side and the prospect for change so remote that traditional rules of conduct fall by the wayside. Political intervention becomes ideological warfare.
Hope disappears and contenders’ very existence and survival are threatened. The Populist Era of the 1890s, when our largely agricultural economy was threatened by growing industrialization, is an example of such a time. The Great Depression of the 1930s, when the working class was pitted against financial interests, is another period of extreme divergence of views as to the common good.
Our current situation finds the forces of the status quo largely defined by those who have wildly prospered over the last decade or two confronted by the vast majority of people who consider themselves middle-class or working-class. The evidence of legitimate concern about the vastness of the chasm that separates advocates for and challengers to the status quo is abundant.
The purchasing power of the great majority of citizens has decreased over the last decade.
Wages are stagnant and job opportunities are decreasing. Insecurity reigns for most people. It has been estimated that the top 400 affluent families control more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans! The extreme economic disparity between the very well-off and the rest raises questions about the viability of the concept of upward mobility, which has always been the social and political safety valve for this country.
Our current extreme economic division raises social as well as economic threats. People who have worked their way into middle class now face the specter of falling back into the ranks of the poor — losing not only homes and income, but perhaps as important, status and self-esteem.
Working-class people without work lose their very identity. Under such conditions, people become alienated from the existing system and want it overturned. Hence, the Tea Party. Compromise and moderation become sinful ….
Thoughtful people on the affluent side of the economic divide understand continuation of this status quo will result in serious social instability — a taste of which we are now experiencing. Unfortunately, they appear to be a minority of that group.
Upholders of the status quo resist remedial change at every turn, be it in regard to financial services, health care or energy policy.
They seek to defend what is becoming more and more indefensible.
A rigid ideological façade is created to justify policies of blatant self-interest unmindful of the public interest. Accordingly, advocates for change, facing the power and intransigence of the status quo, become desperate and respond in kind to the venomous politics of incivility. Pragmatism and practicability go out the window.
To break this Gordian knot, the burden appears to be on those who have benefitted most from policies of the recent past by first realizing that the current economic imbalance is not sustainable and that social instability is inevitable unless we change course. It is heartening to hear someone such as Warren Buffett lament the inequity of our tax code that allows him to pay taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.
Sensitivity like that is essential if we are to avoid further social and political disruption and restore moderation to our system of governance. For the well-to-do, it represents the long view of self-interest. And it’s a good example of when doing the smart thing is also doing the right thing.