Growing up in the ‘60s, I believed being born American was like winning the world lottery. Our country was the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth! (Wasn’t it?) Other nations—particularly democratic ones—respected and envied our freedom, our prosperity, and our way of life. I remember when the rags-to-riches “American Dream” was something many of us were taught to take for granted (especially white males). If you were born in my generation, you probably know many people who started out in modest circumstances, graduated from colleges, and became more successful than their own parents. And how many of you baby boomers remember the days when playground arguments were punctuated with the proud all-American declaration: “It’s a free country?”
Sadly, the USA is no longer regarded as number one among industrialized nations—at least not in areas where we can take pride. Yes, we are 1st in the number of billionaires, but we are last in the gap between rich and poor. We spend more than any other country on health, yet we are 16thin maternal mortality rates, 27th in infant mortality rates, and last in relative child poverty, according to the Research Library for “How America Ranks Among Industrialized Countries.” Upward mobility can no longer be taken for granted as a birthright for all Americans. We are not a meritocracy, and even those who are well-educated and work hard may not reap the rewards we were promised growing up as children in the booming economy of the 1960s. Just look at the depressing unemployment (and under-employment) rates of American millennials since the turn of the century. And how “free” is our country when minorities continue to be disproportionately arrested, when Roe vs. Wade is under perpetual attack, and women still earn less money than men for the same work (77 cents vs. $1.00)? Not surprisingly, the phrase “It’s a free country,” is one that I NEVER hear uttered by children or adults anymore.
The good news (relatively speaking) is that we have only fallen to 3rdplace in “global competitiveness,” after Sweden and Singapore, according to Wikipedia. The bad news? We are 23rd out of 74 nations in infrastructure. Even worse, Mark Rice’s “Ranking America” blog has reported that America is 17th in the world for our level of confidence in Obama (tied with Uganda)! No wonder so few people bother to go the polls these days—especially for the ho-hum midterm elections. Apparently, political cynicism is as much of an epidemic in America today as Ebola is in Liberia. After years of political gridlock in Washington, the GOP finally achieved a majority in the senate. Now, instead of nothing happening or a government shutdown, the Republican controlled senate can pass legislation and probably overcome an Obama veto. Is anyone out there excited? (I’m not). It’s possible that the newly elected governors and senators will actually show up for work and fulfill their responsibility to the citizens who elected them. (Some people still believe in the tooth fairy too). Yes, finally, we might see some much-needed changes. But will those changes improve the lives of all of us, or just some of us? Hint: if you’re in the middle class, don’t hold your breath.