The modern American dream has always been a simple promise of opportunity: Hard work can earn a good life, a good job with decent pay and security, a secure retirement, and an affordable education for the kids. The promise always exceeded the performance — especially with regard to racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and women. But a broad middle class and a broadly shared prosperity at least provided the possibility of a way up.
Today, every element of the dream is imperiled. Twenty-five million Americans are in need of full-time work. One in six people lives in poverty, the highest level in 50 years. Wages for the 70 percent of Americans without a college education have declined dramatically over the past 40 years, even as CEO salaries and corporate profits soared. Corporations continue to ship good jobs abroad, while the few jobs created at home are disproportionately in the lowest wage sectors. Nearly one in four homes with a mortgage is “underwater,” devastating what has been the largest single asset for most middle-class families.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
Meanwhile, the richest 1 percent of Americans capture nearly a quarter of the nation’s income and control about 40 percent of its wealth. They have pocketed almost all of the rewards of the past decade’s economic growth and have shouldered almost none of the burdens.
On Oct. 3, thousands will gather in Washington at the “Take Back the American Dream Conference” in the belief that only a citizens’ movement can reclaim and save the fading American dream.
Organizers confront an economy that is broken for all but the wealthy. Economists and politicians invoke globalization, technology and education as the causes of our extreme inequalities, but in fact, they result from specific policies that have weakened workers, liberated CEOs, starved social protections and savaged America’s middle class.
Despite continued mass unemployment, the GOP has dominated the debate about who will pay to clean up the mess left by Wall Street’s excesses — and what kind of economy will emerge out of the ditch. While progressive thinkers, activists and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have worked to reset the economic narrative and organize demonstrations for jobs in the wake of the economic collapse, their efforts have received little media attention and generated little momentum.
With President Obama in the White House, most progressive resources and attention have been committed to helping pass his reform agenda rather than broadening the national conversation. But in the wake of the 2010 elections, the focus has begun to shift. Now, the GOP’s attempts to roll back not simply Obama’s reforms but the Great Society and the New Deal — indeed much of the progress made in the 20th century — have sparked a vigorous progressive response.
When teachers, students and firefighters joined with union members in Wisconsin this year to defend workers’ rights and oppose the assault on public education, the mass demonstrations electrified progressives and captured national attention. When House Republicans passed a budget that would have ended Medicare as we know it while cutting taxes for the wealthy, angry citizens filled congressional town halls across the country. And in the aftermath of these battles, a collection of unions and progressive organizations have banded together to fight back in a coalition called the American Dream Movement.