We could, of course, have universal health coverage, like all other advanced countries. But no, that would be "socialism," we are warned, and we can't have that! Better that we keep a privatized, profit-driven health care system - even as we cough-up phlegm and keel over. Perhaps, on our headstones, right under the inscribed years showing how young we died, can be put something like, "She upheld the tenets of capitalism, like a true patriot!"
Recent research "estimates that only half the children born in the 1980s grew up to earn more than their parents did, after adjusting for inflation. That's a drop from 92 percent of children born in 1940" ("American Dream collapsing for young adults, study says, as odds plunge that children will earn more than their parents," Washington Post, December 8, 2016).
David Leonhardt, a journalist & editor at the New York Times, examined the research and wrote: "Achieving the American dream was a virtual guarantee for [the 1940s generation], regardless of whether people went to college, got divorced or suffered a layoff. Why? Because they spent their prime working years in an economy with two wonderful features. It was growing rapidly, and the bounty from its growth flowed to the rich, the middle class and the poor alike."
True enough, but Leonhardt doesn't adequately explain why the economy was growing so rapidly, and why the bounty was more evenly distributed. In other words, he doesn't discuss the New Deal. During the 1940s and 50s, New Deal agencies and policies were firmly in place: Social Security, the Securities & Exchange Commission, FDIC, the minimum wage, protections for unions, more progressive taxation, and so on. Also, the American economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. The New Deal worked so well, in fact, that Republicans in the 1950s pushed to expand it. In their 1956 party platform, Republicans boasted:
"We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs: expansion of social security; broadened coverage in unemployment insurance; improved housing; and better health protection for all our people... The Federal minimum wage has been raised for more than 2 million workers. Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million. The protection of unemployment insurance has been brought to 4 million additional workers. There have been increased workmen's compensation benefits for longshoremen and harbor workers, increased retirement benefits for railroad employees, and wage increases and improved welfare and pension plans for federal employees... Furthermore, the process of free collective bargaining has been strengthened..."
It's true that World War II boosted the economy too, but two things must be remembered with respect to the war. First, the New Deal helped us win it, ensuring that the terrible affair would strengthen us, not cripple us. And second, World War II required massive government spending, i.e., a stimulus, albeit a stimulus of the worst kind (and so this contradicts the "limited government" and austerity approaches to recessions).
Over time, the New Deal has been eroded and neglected. Infrastructure has been left to rot, social programs have been relentlessly attacked, enormous tax cuts have been given to the wealthy, policies (like Glass-Steagall) have been repealed, and watchdog agencies (like the SEC) have been weakened. And when unemployment rose during the recession, the idea of creating a new CCC or WPA was ignored. So, given these cynical actions, is it any wonder that the American Dream has died for half the country?