How much more evidence do we need that the American Dream is eroding? The Census Bureau indicated in December that now nearly 1 in 2 people in the U.S. live in families with total household income less than twice the poverty line. Last fall, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report showing that whereas from 1979-2007 the after-tax, inflation-adjusted incomes of the top 1 percent of earners increased 275-fold, incomes of the poorest fifth of the population rose just 18 percent. And in today’s New York Times there was an articlebased on research showing there is significantly less upward mobility in this country than in Canada or Western Europe.
The Occupy movement has put economic inequality on the national agenda, so now it’s just a matter of what we decide to do about it. Millions of Americans need help, not just so they can weather a tough economy but also to get a foothold on future opportunity. As the presidential campaign kicks into full swing with next week’s New Hampshire primary, their need for help deserves center stage.
All candidates in the Republican field are steadfast in their anti-government stances, while President Obama is bracing himself for renewed battles with a Congress similarly bent against new spending on those in need. This means we will have to tackle these problems the old-fashioned way: by helping one another.
Last fall, in the Times Nicholas Confessore described the likes of Bill Gates, William E. Conway, Jr., and Howard Schultz as “policymaking billionaires.” They head up foundations that are spending massive sums of money to redress social problems at a time when the government isn’t. Of course, there are few who can afford to give in this way. But, most of us can still give something, and that is what matters. The bulk of all giving in this country comes not from the wealthy but from people like you and me. Considering the many nonprofits around the U.S. that are doing terrific work to create opportunity for low-income people (featured elsewhere on this blog), revitalizing the American Dream is actually something well within our grasp.