The latest Harper's Index (Harper's Magazine, page 13, September 2006) contains a curious string of statistics--nothing new for the Index!
Let me quote:
"Percentage of Americans in 1983 who thought it was 'possible to start out poor in this country. . .and become rich' : 57
"Percentage who think this today : 80
"Percentage of U. S. income in 1983 and today, respectively, that went to the top 1 percent of earners : 9, 16"
Possibly it has always been this way in America, the Land of Opportunity; the nation of "self-made men" and, more recently, women, all eager to give the old heave-ho on the bootstraps in order to vault into the upperclass.
Trouble is, this just doesn't happen, at least not very often.
In fact, as the notion grows that such a move is possible, even likely; in reality the dream is more cruel illusion than ever before.
More and more of America's wealth finds its way into the hands of fewer and fewer of us in this country.
Yet, the myth remains a powerful motivator and a force for conservative thought and action (or inaction) among middle and underclass citizens. The idealism back of the idea serves as a powerful enforcer of the social, economic and political status quo.
The working poor seldom express interest in organizing to improve their lot. Low income Americans don't vote in significant numbers.
Religion moves alongside the American myth to direct everyone--rich and poor--to the afterlife.
Charity kicks in from time to time, when things seem particularly difficult, on a case-by-case basis. On we go as a people.
In each of the last five years it is estimated that over 1 million Americans have fallen below the poverty line. Again, that is over 1 million fellow citizens annually. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen with little chance of being closed any time soon.
Still, the myth of being able to make it, and make it big persists.
Fighting poverty must involve us in serious consideration of these facts of life in America today.