America's Social Depression Is Accelerating

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 DreamPeople 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 Charles Hugh Smith 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:

Health Care Slavery and Overwork

How a toxic workplace could, literally, destroy your health

We’re afraid our work is killing us, and we are right

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... Charles Hugh Smith 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.

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