In the post World War II boom, the dream of a house in the suburbs with the groomed yard and the swing set and the Ford or the Chevy in the driveway was one in which many Americans indulged and for that matter, a dream many saw come true. But now economists see a true nightmare.
Government data analyzed by the Associated Press shows a growing gap between the unemployment rates of more affluent Americans and those in the lowest economic position.
For American households with incomes of $150,000 or more, the unemployment rate is 3.2 percent, which for purposes of economists, is called full employment.
But for those earning less than $20,000, the rate is over 21 percent. Thats the biggest gap in the decade or so that the government has been keeping records.
The low rate may be good news for the upper middle class and above, but its decidedly bad news for the American economy.
The American Dream, after all, has been the middle class dream: Work hard, dedicate yourself to your job, and you will make more money as you are promoted, which in turn will allow you to buy a home, cars, recreation and educational opportunities for your children, who will do even better than you did.
More than recession
For the poor, there was something of a dream: Work hard, and perhaps with some government help, youll be able to push your children up that ladder, too.
What happened? It wasnt just the recession. As America sent jobs overseas, the value of actually making products was lessened, and with it, the skills of those who could make those products were not valued as once they were.
A Wall Street class of high-dollar paper pushers expanded, people who made money by moving money around, but they werent making anything and they werent really interested in making anything.
And the economy evolved in a not-so-progressive way, with the upper reaches of executives and inherited wealth growing as the middle class diminished. The poor, as usual, were left in the cold.
Now, in the post-recession (a term that doesnt apply to the middle-class and the poor) we see middle-class Americans who lost their jobs taking lower-paying work, which pushes out the people who had those jobs, and they fall into the ranks of the unemployed.
Last year, the AP reported, the average length of unemployment for U.S. workers was over 39 weeks, the longest since the Second World War.
On the same day these distressing figures were reported, Detroit came out with numbers showing automobile sales booming; elsewhere, there were acquisitions of big companies. The stock market rallied.
Many are hurting
And meanwhile, the middle class saw its assets continuing to shrink in the wake of recession, where the waves are still pretty choppy for many, and the poor felt desperation deepen.
President Obama calls the rich-get-richer, poor-get-poorer trend a winner-take-all economy, and hes right. The United States has to start making things again.
It has to start encouraging the Wall Street money managers that putting money in companies that produce jobs is a smart long-term investment that will benefit all.
That takes more than skill in number-crunching. It takes imagination and a measure of courage.
Unless this trend changes, the rich will continue to get richer, which is fine for them, but the middle class will shrink more and the ranks of the poor will grow.
America came out of the Great Depression, when it seemed revolution was a real possibility, because people went back to work, were able to provide for their families again, and gave hope to their children.
The Dream was rekindled.
It can be again, but as the gap between rich and poor, as measured by employment and other yardsticks, grows, the time to revitalize that Dream grows ever shorter.