Study on pay for young adults highlights plunge in US living standards
Monday, December 12, 2016
WALL STREET CALLS OFF THE AMERICAN DREAM - Study on pay for young adults highlights plunge in US living standards
AMERICA DIES YOUNG, POOR AND
A Nation Commits Suicide
Study on pay for young adults highlights plunge in US living standards
A study released last week by a team of economists from
Stanford, Harvard and the University of California at
Berkeley found that the odds of American children growing
up to earn more than their parents declined precipitously
from 1970 to the present. Whereas in 1970, 92 percent of 30-
year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age,
that number fell to 51 percent by 2014.
The figures for males were even worse. As of 2014, only 41
percent of 30-year-old men earned more than their fathers at
a similar age. The researchers also found that the decline in
the ability of children to earn more than their parents was
greatest in the Midwest, where decades of deindustrialization
have had their most devastating social impact.
The economists concluded that even rapid economic growth
would do little to reverse the downward trend because of the
immense and ongoing growth of social inequality.
The authors of the study described their findings as a harsh
verdict on the strength of what they called “the American
dream.” In fact, their own findings add to a mass of social
indices demonstrating that the much-vaunted but largely
mythical “American dream” has turned into a nightmare. To
the extent that this term, promoted to encourage illusions in
American capitalism, ever corresponded to social reality, it
was largely in connection with the belief that each young
generation would enjoy a better standard of living than the
one that preceded it.
Just last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) reported that overall life expectancy in the
US declined for the first time in more than two decades in
2015. The fall reflected rising death rates for a variety of
diseases, an increase in unintentional injuries, accelerating
suicide rates and an increase in infant mortality.
Earlier this year, a group of Harvard researchers reported that
there was a 15-year life expectancy gap between men in the
richest one percent of the population and those in the bottom
one percent. Another reflection of the social crisis is the
CDC’s finding that deaths from heroin overdoses surpassed
gun homicides in 2015, while total annual deaths from all
opioid overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.
The study on pay noted that the sharpest drop in the
percentage of young adults earning more than their parents
occurred from 1970 to about 1992—from 92 percent to 58
percent. The percentage stabilized for about a decade and
began to fall again beginning in 2002.
There is a direct correlation between this downward
trajectory in living standards and the decay of American
capitalism. The 1970s was the decade when the unraveling of
the post-World War II economic boom and the erosion of the
dominance of American industry found open expression in
the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1971
and the growing share of global markets, including the US
market, captured by rivals such as Germany and Japan.
At the end of the decade, the American ruling class initiated a
major shift in its class policy, terminating the postwar period
of relative class compromise and launching a class-war
offensive aimed at breaking the militant resistance of the
working class and reversing its previous social gains. A wave
of plant closures and mass layoffs that began under the
Democratic Carter administration was intensified under
Reagan, who used the growth of unemployment along with
union busting and wage cutting, made possible by the
betrayals and collusion of the unions, to drive down working-
class living standards.
This ruling-class offensive has continued ever since, under
Democratic no less than Republican administrations. The
pace of decline in working-class living standards slowed
somewhat in the 1990s, with Clinton presiding over a
transient upward trend in economic growth based on the
removal of virtually all restraints on financial speculation and
parasitism. The resulting dot.com bubble imploded in 2000,
fueling a new wave of mass layoffs and wage cutting under
both the Bush and Obama administrations. This offensive was
stepped up in response to the Wall Street crash of 2008.
It is this social catastrophe, rooted in the decline of American
capitalism, that underlies the political crisis of both big-
business parties in the 2016 election and the victory of Trump
—the personification of the economic, political and moral
decay of the American ruling class.
The election was dominated by the growth of popular anger
and disgust with both parties and the political and economic
status quo. The broad popular support, particularly among
young people and workers, for the Democratic primary
campaign of Bernie Sanders, who presented himself as a
“socialist” opponent of the “billionaire class” and social
inequality, reflected the initial stages of a movement of the
working class to the left. Sanders worked to channel this
opposition behind the Democratic Party, culminating in his
endorsement of and campaign for Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s campaign, the most right-wing in modern
Democratic Party history, focused on scandalmongering
against Trump and warmongering against Russia. She was
broadly backed by Wall Street and the CIA and ran as the
continuator of Obama’s supposed economic “recovery.” She
utilized racial and gender politics to portray “white working
class” support for Trump as motivated by racism and sexism
and distract attention from the ongoing growth of social
inequality and impoverishment of broad layers of working
In an election where the two candidates vied for the
distinction of being the most despised presidential
contenders in US history, and the biggest bloc of voters were
those who saw no reason to vote, Trump was given a free path
by the Democrats and Sanders to exploit the economic
grievances of workers and middle-class people whose living
standards had been devastated by the policies of both parties.
Both the Obama administration and the Clinton election
campaign were the outcome of nearly five decades, beginning
at the end of the 1960s, during which the Democratic Party
has repudiated any connection to policies of social reform and
moved ever more sharply to the right.
It will not take long for workers, including those who voted
for Trump, to realize that they have been taken for a ride and
face in his administration the most ferocious enemy of the
working class. His cabinet of billionaire reactionaries and
warmongering generals already makes clear that his will be
the most right-wing, anti-working class government in US
Trump’s policies of social counterrevolution and war will do
nothing to resolve the underlying crisis of American and
world capitalism. They will only exacerbate the social crisis.
The working class will face immense shocks in the coming
months. It will move into struggle against a government that
is preparing an unprecedented level of state repression in
defense of the corporate-financial elite.
The interests and needs of the working class can find no
expression within the existing political system. The defense
of democratic and social rights must assume the conscious
form of a socialist political movement of the working class
against the capitalist system.
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