They say there's been a recovery, but most of us haven't seen it. Our economy is creating more jobs, but they don't match the wages, benefits and working conditions of the ones we've lost. The stock market is at a historic high, but its gains seem eerily divorced from how the economy is actually performing. Unfortunately, it looks like just another speculative bubble.
More than six years have passed since the financial crisis, but its effects are still being felt. For most Americans, the economy remains a grim and frightening place- a source of anxiety, instead of hope.
Working people built America. Now look what has become of it. We were born into a land of opportunity and broadly shared prosperity. We will grow old in a very different place.
Beginning in the 1970s, our nation transitioned from an economy driven by production to one based on consumption. Manufacturing declined, while the service and financial sectors rose to prominence. This process has been a disaster for America's working families. We've traded jobs with living wages that facilitated upward mobility for minimum wage positions at Walmart or temp work at Amazon. Today, we live paycheck to paycheck, often only one unforeseen expense or period of unemployment away from financial ruin.
American workers are stuck on an economic treadmill. We're better educated, work longer hours, and are by some measurers more productive than past generations, but we can never get ahead. Instead, we have to work harder every year just to maintain our standards of living. So we run until we drop, knowing that even if we make it to the end of the race, we won't enjoy the same retirement security as senior citizens today.
Of course, everyone isn't a loser in our economy. Those at the very top are doing quite well. Obscene fortunes are being made even as most Americans are struggling. Our so-called recovery illustrates this point- corporate profits have surged, but they haven't trickled down. Instead, about 85 percent of America's anemic post-recession income growth has gone to the top 20 percent of wage earners, and the gap between executive and employee compensation has continued to widen.
We've become a nation where the rich get richer, the indigent receive a few services, and working people are lashed and ordered to row harder to keep the country going.
In truth, our economy has become a maw. Broken families, foreclosed homes, shuttered factories, blighted neighborhoods, and even a damaged environment, are the detritus left in its wake. Our lives bear its scars.
Sadly, none of this was inevitable.
Historically, public policy has driven growing inequality and erected barriers to access and opportunity. This shouldn't surprise us. Concentrated wealth is synonymous with concentrated power. It is economically inefficient and, in a democracy, politically dangerous. Today, our government has been captured by the wealthy and their hordes of hirelings- the apologists and sycophants that populate the think tanks, media, lobbying firms and public relations industry. And in a society where money is equated with speech, our voices are never heard.
Both political parties are implicated in this calamity. With few exceptions, they serve the same corporate masters and cater to their interests. They have become nothing more than empty political brands marketed to credulous consumers. They offer only the illusion of choice.
Politically, we have been defeated and marginalized because we are divided. In particular, the latent racial prejudices of the white middle and working classes have been exploited to prevent unified opposition from cohering. Code words and dog whistles play to their worst instincts, stoking and amplifying their fears and resentments. They are baited and set against marginalized minorities and the powerless poor, their anger diverted downward where it poses no threat to the system.
Division is sown and inequality is reaped.
And in the background, you can hear the one percent laughing.
Six years ago we hoped, but little has changed. Our decline continues to follow a clear trajectory. We are the first generation in American history that will not be as successful as the one before. Our children will fare even worse. To paraphrase George Orwell, the future is a well-shined expensive men's dress shoe "stamping on a human face — forever."
However, all is not yet lost. The rich are weaker than we fear; we are more powerful than we imagine.
We can still take our country back, but only if we stand together.
Michael Stafford is a recovering Republican turned political independent and the author of “An Upward Calling.” Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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