The American Precariat

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Americans have lost faith in the American way, David Brooks finds:

Fertility rates, a good marker of confidence, are down. Even accounting for cyclical changes, people are less likely to voluntarily vacate a job in search of a better one. Only 46 percent of white Americans believe they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, the lowest levels in the history of the General Social Survey.

Peter Beinart wrote a fascinating piece for National Journal, arguing that Americans used to have much more faith in capitalism, a classless society, America’s role in the world and organized religion than people from Europe. But now American attitudes resemble European attitudes, and when you just look at young people, American exceptionalism is basically gone.

Fifty percent of Americans over 65 believe America stands above all others as the greatest nation on earth. Only 27 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that. As late as 2003, Americans were more likely than Italians, Brits and Germans to say the “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” By 2010, they were slightly less likely than those Europeans to embrace capitalism.

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.


  1. Dave says:

    I think the underlying problem here is our ruined financial “system”. Particularly since around 1980, wealth in the US really does seem to be allocated by political favoritism more than adding economic value.

    This has a subtle ruinous effect on everything – because making sure your family has food to eat becomes a function of pleasing bureaucrats rather than actually adding economic value. This illusion of freedom from the constraints of reality eats away at people’s confidence.

  2. Candide III says:

    The funny thing about that article is the obligatory policy prescription:

    Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute believes government should offer moving vouchers to the long-term unemployed so they can chase opportunity.

    Talk about curing cancer with lavings and poultices.

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