John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

So a new study by the Pew Research Center says more and more U.S. citizens and residents are doubting that the American Dream is all it’s been cracked up to be.

Well, DUH!

If this is news, then I’m a walrus, no disrespect meant to National Public Radio, where I heard this particular story. The nation’s best source of national and international news has, unfortunately, become too beholden to the corporate behemoth that rules this country. The result has been less adventurous newsgathering, and more timid newscasting.

Anyway, that’s not the point here. The point is that for anyone who’s been paying attention, the American Dream has been morphing into a nightmare for some time now.

For decades, the American middle class has been slipping toward the poverty line, pushed downward by the growing appetites of the über-wealthy and the deliberately slipshod oversight of the U.S. government. The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes.

Look up any statistical database you feel comfortable with, and there you will learn that we have only two socio-economic groups with growing numbers these days – the poor and the wealthy. Far more of us in the middle class are being driven into poverty than are heading the other way.

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As more and more wealth is concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people, there is necessarily less wealth to go around. That means that for most of us, who merely work for a living rather than invest in the stock markets or raid vulnerable companies to gut them and sell off their assets, we’re losing ground.

Business writer Michael Snyder pointed out two years ago that the statistics are canted strongly in favor of the top 1 percent.

Even then, he wrote, 83 percent of all U.S. stocks were in the hands of the 1-percenters, and this was before Occupy Wall Street made that phrase a household curse word.

Back in 1950, he pointed out, the ratio of the average company executive’s paycheck to that of his average employee was roughly 30-1. Since the year 2000, he declared, that ratio has rocketed to close to 500-1.

More than 40 percent of U.S. workers who actually had jobs when Snyder did his figuring were working in the service industries, with low wages and, too often, no benefits.

At the same time as the middle class has been losing ground, the number of millionaires in this country is creeping upward. That number reached 3.1 million in 2011, according to the Wealth Report by the Wall Street Journal, and those lucky devils held a combined wealth of $11.6 trillion, up from $10.7 trillion in 2009.

This was going on as the per capita income of the U.S. plummeted to $25,000 a year in 2011. A third of our citizens have no savings at all, even as millionaires reported they didn’t really feel comfortable unless they had at least $7 million in the bank.

So, is it any wonder that the American Dream is looking a little tarnished these days, at least to those sitting at or near the bottom of the heap?

As Snyder pointed out two years ago, 61 percent of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck in 2009, up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007. Getting the picture?

I found an interesting chart on the Wikipedia website, showing that the 2008 share of national income earned by the 1-percenters was at about the same level, about 18 percent, as it was in 1913, just a few years before the start of the Great Depression.

There was a big dip in that statistic in the middle part of the 20th century, from about 1950 to about 1980, when the share held by the 1 percenters got down to a more rational 5 to 7 percent, meaning the rest of us were doing relatively well.

That was the year Ronald Reagan got elected, and declared it was “Morning In America.” What he really meant was that it was time for the rich to get a whole lot richer, and the rest of us to get ready to eat dirt.

jcolson@aspentimes.com