The End of the American Dream

“Everyone Wants the American dream. But the dream isn’t there anymore. You fall more than you climb.” — Comment by worker interviewed after November 1994 elections.

During the 1990s, the idea of the American dream, that the next generation will do better than the present one, has now all but disappeared for most workers and youth.

Take Craig Miller, a 37-year-old father of four from Kansas City. Like millions of other workers, he was recently laid off from his job, in his case, by TWA, and has his living standards and life expectancy shattered. He has faced s job market littered with low-paid part-time jobs. “Sure, we’ve got four of them. So what? So you can fork like a dog for $5 an hour.” He and his wife both now work for McDonalds while he also drives school buses and she works at a toy store as a second job.

  • During the 1980s and 1990s, living standards have been under continual assault from all directions, whether it is cut wages, loss of jobs or higher taxes. More and more the struggle is just to get by. Insecurity, tension and fear have become a daily part of life. The depth of the attacks on workers’ living standards over the last two decades can be seen from these facts.
  • From 1973 to 1992 while productivity has gone up 25%, wages have gone down 19%.
  • Between 1979 and 1987 the average worker worked 95 hours more each year. That is more than three and a half weeks a year. Also vacation time has fallen by one third.
  • Between 1979 and 1989, 44% of the population saw a real fall in their income, and only 25% saw an increase. This means that 75% of the population saw their living standards decline or stagnate.Between 1973 and 1987 the income of families headed by someone under 30 years of age fell 30%. The income of families headed by someone who didn’t graduate from high school fell 5.2%!

This collapse in living standards is rooted in the failure of the economy to produce well-paying jobs which was the basis for the American dream. Years of concessions, downsizing, lay-offs, the flight of manufacturing jobs overseas and the proliferation of low-paid service jobs have changed the job market and conditions of life for workers. This has occurred during both recessions and recoveries of the economy.

In this climate, workers are told by the politicians and the media that they have to further tighten their belts. As if they haven’t been tightening their belts already! Leaders of the Democrats and Republicans now point to the need to “compete” in the global economy as the new reason why workers must work harder, take home less pay, work unsociable hours and allow their children to grow up facing jobs paying only $5, $6 and $7 an hour. Once again, we are told that if we do this then things will turn around in the future.

Meanwhile, the rich have amassed a fortune, and the politicians in Washington are surrounded by wealth and privilege, far removed from the day-to-day concerns of working people. Of an estimated $7 trillion of wealth created in the 1980s, $3 trillion went into the bank accounts and pockets of the wealthiest 1% of the population, i.e. almost half of all the wealth!

During the 1990s the anger at this process rose to the surface. Quite rightly, US workers have pointed the finger at political leaders. In 1992, it was the Republican president Bush who was swept from power with only 38% of the vote. In November 1994, it was the turn of the Democratic leadership in Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans have been hammered by voters for their failure. Working people now face the newly-elected Republicans in Congress who are looking to further cut public services and benefit the rich and big business.

America is at a turning point. The ways of the past are no longer working. Conditions keep deteriorating year after year. It is time for an alternative. The starting point for this alternative must be that we, as workers, have our own interests and our own solution to the problems of America. This solution is drastically different from that of corporate America, with its agenda of speed-ups on the job and cuts in services in order to defend its profits. Our agenda is based on the real needs of workers. Food on the table, a decent house, a secure well-paid job, health care for all and the right to get a decent education. It is based on the idea that all the people need to have a decent job available to them, so they can produce sufficient goods and services to earn a decent living. It is based on challenging the control and ownership of the top 500 corporations who dominate the economy, and putting power and control into the hands of working people.

This can only be done by challenging the two existing political parties which serve the interests of big business and capitalism. A new political party needs to be built. A political party organized by, funded by, and democratically controlled by the vast majority of the people in the country, the working people. This party would not be controlled by corporate America with its “special” interest. With such a party, workers could for the first time gain real control of the resources of the country, and would be able to transform America to provide for the needs of our class, the working class.

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