We need to value honesty above optimism. Once we can speak honestly, there is a foundation for optimism.
Beneath the rah-rah statistics of “the greatest economy ever,” the social depression is accelerating. The mainstream is reluctantly waking up to the future of the American Dream: downward mobility for all but the top 10% of households. A 2015 Atlantic article fleshed out the zeitgeist with survey data that suggests the Great Middle Class/Nouveau Proletariat is also waking up to a future of downward mobility: The Downsizing of the American Dream: People used to believe they would someday move on up in the world. Now they’re more concerned with just holding on to what they have.
I have been digging into the financial and social realities of what it takes to be middle class in today’s economy for years: Are You Really Middle Class?
The reality is that the middle class has been reduced to the sliver just below the top 5%–if we use the standards of the prosperous 1960s as a baseline.
The downward mobility isn’t just financial–it’s a decline in political power, control of one’s work and income-producing assets. This article reminds us of what the middle class once represented: What Middle Class? How bourgeois America is getting recast as a proletariat. Money and Work Unchained Best Price: $11.00 Buy New $14.54 (as of 01:40 EDT - Details)
The costs of trying to maintain a toehold in the upper-middle class are illuminated in these recent articles on health and healthcare–both part of the downward mobility:
This reappraisal of the American Dream is also triggering a reappraisal of the middle class in the decades of widespread prosperity: The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Downward mobility excels in creating and distributing what I term social defeat: In my lexicon, social defeat is a spectrum of anxiety, insecurity, chronic stress, powerlessness, and fear of declining social status.
Downward mobility and social defeat lead to social depression. Here are the conditions that characterize social depression:
1. High expectations of endless rising prosperity have been instilled in generations of citizens as a birthright.
2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially.
3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the shrinking middle class.
4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state (welfare) or one’s parents to financial independence. Get a Job, Build a Rea... Check Amazon for Pricing.
5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job.
6. A failure in the Status Quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social recession as a reality.
7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social recession issues.
8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations by the generations ensnared by the social recession: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as luxury autos or homeownership.
9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment, i.e. what I have termed (following Jeremy Rifkin) the end of work.
10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions.