Income Inequality and The American Dream

Looks like a few other people have some smart things to say rebutting the condescending Generation Y article that was my last straw. First of all, Adam Weinstein wrote this fantastic article outline how exactly the world is different than it used to be, and why the deck is stacked against people trying to build their careers.

Then, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Death of an Adjunct, describing how an 83 year old professional woman was driven into poverty by the reprehensible policies of her employer (ostensibly for a greater religious good, I might add).

And on The Daily Show this Monday, Jon Stewart interviewed former Labor Secretary Robert Reich about income inequality, the gutting of the middle class, class warfare, upward mobility, citizen activism, and his new film, Inequality For All. He argues for a living wage for full-time work, and against the idea that the working poor are taking advantage of the absurdly over-paid upper echelon.

And I’d like to add this thought to the mix: We need to do away with the idea that being rich somehow makes a person more valuable, their work more worthwhile, and their life choices more justified. Some of our most important professions are among the least compensated – teachers, social workers, firefighters and police – as well as the people who make our daily existence possible – retail workers, grocery store cashiers, restaurant servers. If a person works full time hours, they should be able to pay rent, buy food, drive a reasonably safe car, and educate their children. And I don’t think that being able to take a week off for the holidays and one in the summer is unreasonable either.

Pundits talk about how a rising tide lifts all boats, but that doesn’t matter one bit if you’re standing on the shore wishing you had a boat to begin with. Right now, we have a structure where a very small percentage of people take home more money than they could ever spend, while masses of people are struggling to meet basic human needs. And that’s something we should really be working to correct, as individuals and as a country. Think about how embarrassed we’re going to be if Doctors Without Borders becomes a primary source of medical care for rural America, or when NGO’s show up to help us dig clean wells because there’s been a cholera outbreak in a bankrupt city. And just to be absolutely clear, I’m not arguing for socialism here. I’m arguing for democracy and against plutocracy. It’s time we did more to live up to our own myth of the American Dream.

On “Kids Today”

Ok, so I’ve just about had my fill of these “What’s Wrong With Young People Today” articles. Not only have the “kids are selfish, spoiled and entitled” sentiment been around literally since Socrates, they’re overlooking an important point: “Kids today” expect a lot because they’ve been promised a lot. Because they were raised by the adults in their lives to believe that as long as they don’t royally screw up, they will inherit a world with even more promise than the world of their parents. And I don’t say that as an indictment of our parents’ generation: that ideal was the truth they saw in their lives. But the fact is, the world changed drastically about five years ago, and what was a fair and reasonable expectation of life’s trajectory was completely transformed.

I don’t think most people in their late 20’s/early 30’s believe they are special snowflakes entitled to be rock stars by 27. Many of us, are however, disappointed by feeling like we’ve worked our asses off for ten years and aren’t very much further ahead. And frustrated and fearful that our parent’s standard of living seems increasingly out of reach for us.

Life isn’t fair and the world isn’t equal, and each of us has to put on our big girl panties and deal with that. But painting an entire generation with a belittling, condescending, self-absorbed brush is really kind of a jackass attitude.

The vast majority of us work very hard. Most of us work hard without the guarantee of job security, health insurance, upward mobility. Many of us feel like we had the rug pulled out from under us. So rather than regurgitating the “10 Things We Need To Give Up To Be Happy,” or “What’s Wrong with Generation Why-Me,” or any other variation of “Why I Think You’re Living Your Life Wrong,” can we all just take that time and energy and be supportive of one another and the work that we’re doing (or not doing) and the kids we’re trying to give a decent life to (or enjoying or work without kids) and remember that we’re all just doing the best we can?

Be loving. Be understanding. Be forgiving. Because it’s who you are, not because they deserve it. And for god’s sake, forgive yourself too.