Who’s better off compared to what?

Carol Hymowitz writing for Bloomberg Business Week reported that [some] baby boomers are poorer in old age than their parents. My response: “Who cares?”

To gain a much wider perspective on the quality of life today, I think we must consider what life was like before minimum wage laws, labor unions, child labor laws and women gaining the right to vote and own property—that didn’t come about until the early 20th century contributing to the creation of America’s modern middle class.

For most Americans today even if they are worse off financially than their parents, they are still much better off than most Americans in the early 20th century and the entire 19th century.

For instance, the average life expectancy in America in 1900 was 48 years. Today that average life expectancy is 78.7.

And in 1900, only 6.4 percent of Americans earned high-school degrees compared to 90% today (by age 24 because some do not earn their high school degree on time at age 17/18). Logically, if only 6.4% of Americans graduated from high school in 1900, there must have been a high rate of illiteracy and ignorance in the United States.

What about college graduates in 1900 compared to today—how many graduated from college back then? The answer is 38,000 (in 1900 there were 76 million Americans meaning less than 0.05% of the population graduated from college mostly from families that were in the top 1% financially).

But this year: During the 2013–14 school year, colleges and universities are expected to award 943,000 associate’s degrees; 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees; 778,000 master’s degrees; and 177,000 doctor’s degrees.

In fact, more than 20% of adult Americans have college degrees today—that’s almost 46 million.

Even if the parents of Baby Boomers have more money—which makes since because they are older and worked longer—life is much better than it was in 1900 and the public schools are succeeding at the job of educating America’s youth better than at any time in the history of the United States regardless of what the critics who want to destroy public education claim.

And where did America’s modern middle class come from in the first place?

The period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s was a golden era of American capitalism because—for instance—the G.I. Bill financed a well-educated work force, and the middle class swelled.

The U.S. underwent a golden age of economic growth distributed fairly evenly across the economic classes, with some credit going to the strength of labor unions—labor union membership peaked historically in the U.S. during the 1950s, in the middle of this massive economic growth.

You also may want to seriously consider this: Think Progress.org reports that as union membership decreases, middle class income shrinks. In 1967, when union membership was high, the middle class earned more than 25% of the national income but by 2007, that ratio had fallen to 10% of income, and the rich—who are often critics and enemies of labor unions—just get richer.

In addition, much of the growth of the modern middle class came from the movement of low income farm workers into better paying jobs in the towns and cities—a process largely completed by 1960.

In 1801, when Jefferson became president, 95 percent of Americans essentially made their full-time living from agriculture. By the turn of the 20th century, it was 45 percent, and by the turn of the 21st less than 2 percent. (An America without farmers?)

Maybe the real truth is that following World War II, America grew a middle class urban bubble as Americans fled farms to the cities and now that bubble’s getting ready to pop just like the dot com and real estate bubbles exploded.

When many are starving in the cities, will the few farmers left in the United States be starving on their farms?


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran and English-journalism teacher.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy that started life as a memoir and then became a fictional suspense thriller. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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