So much for the American Dream: another take on a very recent post

There have been a number of important studies documenting the increasing lack of mobility in American Society.  I just put up a post about one.  I wrote about race, but one should also notice its serious implications for education in the US.  Have a look, if you are interested.

Here is a list of recent NY Times articles on declining mobility in the US.

16 thoughts on “So much for the American Dream: another take on a very recent post

  1. My favourite is this one, Living the American Dream (in Canada),

    Here also, In Canada, unlike the U.S., the American dream lives on,

    ““What distinguishes the two countries is what’s happening at the tails,” Prof. Corak explained in an interview. “Rich kids grow up to be rich adults and poor kids stay poor. In Canada, that’s not so much the case.”

    The American dream that anyone can rise from humble beginnings to vast wealth has become a myth. And as the gap between rich and poor widens, the middle class is shrinking.

    For now, at least, the dream of upward mobility in Canada is still alive. Canadians can thank a legacy of sound public policy and a more progressive tax system.”

  2. Hmmm, I’m skeptical about anything I read in the Globe. It leans right–tho not as far right as the new FauxNews north, the Sun. I shit thee not. I hadn’t picked up a copy in years, and did so because I remembered it as a good source for local Toronto news. It is now a Muslim-bashing, classist rag. The Globe was always a little conservative.

    I guess if you’re comparing Canadian social mobility to the Americans’, we fare a little better. For the moment. But 2 decades of Tory propaganda, especially during the Ralph Klein/Mike Harris years is beginning to erode that opportunity. Our gvt. has entirely shifted the focus of programming for the poor. I know. I’m just getting back to normalcy after 2 years of couch surfing, sublets and absolute homelessness. Everything is geared to rehab and addiction research, now. For somebody like me, who’s allergic to alcohol, who refuses to poison my body with street drugs, the system is self-defeating. Some of those shelters are filthy and downright dangerous. I slept in my coat&boots, with my purse in my armpit, so I wouldn’t get robbed.

    About 1 in 10 shelter residents, from my experience, were elderly women in health crises, who had been ousted from their homes for spending too much time in hospital. They were then ousted from hospitals due to shortages of beds. About half were refugees. Thankfully, they’re still getting the help they need. About 1 in 5 were actually addicted. many of them were thieves. Some had serious anger management problems. In a 30-bed shelter that I stayed in for 6 weeks, I watched 6 women with serious mental illnesses that looked to my layperceptions to be schizophrenics, come and go. The policy in these places is not to help these women. It’s to keep them out of ‘polite society’ so they’re not a nuisance. Then when too many shelter residents complain, they send them to another shelter. I had my hackles up every day, waiting for the day I’d have to defend myself, and be taken to jail for my troubles. When the weather was nice, I slept outside. I discovered that the streets of Toronto were actually safer than the shelters. And if I had to defend myself, I could do it without any witnesses around.

    Only the working poor have access to free childcare. And working poor who are affluent enough to drive–even an old rustbucket–are expected to pay. OSAP students are expected to pay out of our student loans. Welfare no longer supports people who want to finish high school. They have to work and pay $40/course in their spare time. Prior Learning Assessments can run up to $300. For people in subsidized housing, on or off welfare, Ontario’s totalitarian Child Protection laws trump all other provincial rights laws.

    I only wish the Ontario Works offices had been mandated to screen applicants for drug use when it was first suggested a few years back. I suspect the results would have been similar to those in the state of Florida. Only 2.5% of those screened came up positive. Rather than be granted the opportunity just hand over my pee and be done with it, the CAS harassed me right out of my shot at a degree from a leading university. You know how it is. Our social policy makers can examine the letter of the law and say they’ve done away with discrimination. DeFacto discrimination still remains. I can’t prove it yet, but I still suspect the CAS whispered something to my university that ended up in a computer file for all to see. Time will tell.

    My story is not so uncommon. Don’t even get me started on how underrepresented First Nations people are in higher education. I’ve met dozens with stories similar to mine.

  3. Hello Xena:

    I hadn’t seen your comments for a while.

    It seems that you’ve lived through some very tough experiences.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re getting back to normalcy.

  4. Analysis of mobility can get a bit sticky, depending on the methodology involved. For instance, I believe the mobility project looks at mobility between tenths (bottom 10%, etc.). While this will give one perspective on mobility, it’s flawed in that it won’t take into account income compression. In many countries with significant social safety nets, the gap between the 50th percentile and, say, the 20th can be fairly small in terms of real buying power – as opposed to what we have in the US. One would expect mobility to be higher in these cases, because there’s not as far to go. In a country where half the population survives on less than $2 a day, it won’t take a great improvement in buying power to get a massive percentile jump.

    This kind of mobility doesn’t strike me as particularly relevant. If someone increases their buying power from $20k a year to $60K, what matters to them is that jump, not whether that counts as jumping from the 20th percentile to the 50th or 80th.

  5. Hi, SW. Thanks for the kind words. “Tough experiences” is a matter of perspective, I guess. My biggest fear while I was out there was actually catching a disease from being in an unsanitary place where the risk of getting into a fight with a junkie was high. Tho I’ve heard of police beating on homeless people (or people that they mistake for homeless) where I am, it’s never happened to me. I’ve been harassed by mall cops, but never brutalized by police.

    I think you’ve been through worse. I hear it’s pretty painful to be sprayed with rubber bullets.

    I’m glad to be back chatting with you again, too.

  6. The lack of mobility that impresses me is not about making big jumps, but making no jumps. From the NY Times:

    At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.

    Of course, it is compatible with these figures that the bottom fifth nonetheless had their income rise from 20K to 50K. Then the original figures would be close to insignificant. I think philosophers often suggest to researchers that for all they have said, they haven’t proved their point because they haven’t ruled out many possibilities, such as the one I suggested. In my experience, they have typically taken such considerations into account. It would be incompetent or worse to miss out on such possibilities and mistakenly suppose your figures were important. But perhaps in this case you have reasons for thinking that staying in the bottom 20% in American does not mean your quality of life has not increased significantly, or as significantly as the jump from 20% to 30% or 40% in Britain.

  7. Yes, ajkreider. Economics people have their heads up their hoops when it comes to fanaggling with statistics. What does it matter how many people were given a raise from $30k to $40k last year when fuel prices have more than doubled in the last 7 years? 7 years ago, I used to buy day-old bread on sale for $1.29. I pay FOUR FRIKKIN DOLLARS!! for it, now. I can’t believe these people who vote Tory because they believe that shaving 2cents off the GST is saving anybody money. And yet these voters have no clue how badly Harper and Flaherty are screwing us in terms of honouring the dirty deal that Mulroney and Reagan signed, tying our oil prices to the Americans’. We have our own oil supplies. We don’t need to kowtow to that nonsense. But new-millenium Stagflation marches on. Such is the price of voting on fiscal platforms when one doesn’t grasp the difference between disposable income and discretionary income.


    A word comes to mind when I think of these voters. I’ve entered it on a different line, just in case it violates this site’s etiquette policies. I hope that if you need to delete this, you’ll only delete what’s below the asterisks, so I won’t have to retype the rest of my rant. The word is Cracker.

  8. I plead guilty, ajj. Some of the articles in fact raise the possibility. I certainly don’t have any information on the particulars of intra-percentile moves (or lack thereof).

    Such studies would be easier to pass over in silence if the headlines weren’t of the unqualified, attention-grabbing sort.

  9. Ok then, I’m guilty too. I like to spew attention grabbing phrases as much as the next person. I just wish these Ivory Tower types could see how much longer the breadlines really are compared to 20 or 25 years ago, the first time I became unhoused. The glowing reports of ‘improvement’ just don’t add up.

    I’ll leave the Americans to assess their own quality of life. Reports of their current economic situation sound absolutely tragic to me. 1 in just over 600 homes in Wisconsin repossessed over the last few years…etc. etc.

  10. ajkreider, I was going to grudgingly admit you may well have a point, at least in how we ordinary folk view the data, with those headlines. I spent some time looking up figures. I didn’t get the exact sums, but roughly the different between the top of the bottom 25% in the UK is 5K pounds, which is probably about 7.5-8K USA. The same difference in the US is $20K, more or less. Salary compression indeed!

    I suppose that the mobility in the UK reflects, though, not just purchasing power, but also the ability to move career levels. In over all quality of life, the 5K pound difference may reflect a lot of quality of life differences, with job satisfaction, etc..

  11. Xena:

    I’ve done a bit of what you call couch surfing, but no, I’ve never had to sleep on the street or in a shelter.

    What led you to that situation, if I may pry?

  12. Hi again, SW. I’ll repeat this story one more time, but only because a regular contributor to this site, who I won’t identify, might actually be in a position to help me with this mess. It’s her call as to whether or not she wants to. But this comes pretty close to threadjacking, an online behaviour I’m trying to avoid. I won’t be doing this again. Here’s the whole ugly story as I see it:

    I was a victim of faulty birth control in 1999. I already had a 7-year old child, so my employment history was sporadic. EI wasn’t an option. Staying with my kids’ father was not an option. I had to go on welfare. Our provincial gvt. was already just over 4 years into padding their employment stats with the punitive social policy changes I mentioned above, in comment #3. “Mike the Knife” had already cut welfare allowances by 25%, but was voted down on the proposed drug-screening policy. Totalitarian Child Protection laws took the place of that particular witch-hunting tactic. School teachers were and still are expected to call Family and Children’s Services over such minor infractions as tardiness problems and missing socks. When FCS are called, they have the right to contact all service providers that may work with the child(ren). That includes schools, daycare workers, doctors, dentists, government housing providers and especially welfare workers. They actually flag computer files at the welfare office when FCS are called on a welfare client. There don’t have to have reasonable grounds or proof for the accusations to be reported to these service providers, either. As long as they preface their reports with “we suspect” that the parent is…FCS can call the parent anything from a drug addict to a schizophrenic to a child molester. It’s not considered slander for these people to ‘suspect’ even the most degrading things, with no evidence. When FCS make reports to service providers, the word “suspect” gets omitted in other departmental communications.

    So because I was going through a difficult pregnancy, I had trouble walking the full km to my daughter’s school with her every day to get her there on time. One more incident where her teacher didn’t get on her to wear her snowpants and zip her coat in sub-zero weather, and chose instead to blame me for the child’s stubbornness, and voila! FCS ambushes everywhere I went, beginning with the fiasco on my birthbed. (I still have a babybook that a friend brought me while I was in hospital–I still won’t look at it bc I don’t want to be reminded of that horrorshow.) I asked a random question during some bloodwork because of something a friend had told me about HIV testing on new moms being a routine procedure where she was living. Well, that was all The Inquisition needed. They demanded that I cough up my entire sexual history… Did you sleep with gay men? Drug addicts? Are you on drugs? Have you ever been on drugs? Are you an alcoholic? ICK!!! When was the last time I consorted with a demon and do I have extra teats growing out of my belly and arse :-P So in spite of all my No No and No answers, they decided to give my son AZT, to ‘prevent the virus from being passed to him’. In spite of my assertions that I was negative, in spite of my pleas to have a saliva test, results back in an hour, they would not accept my refusal to sign for the AZT. They sent him to fostercare and forced that crap on him anyway. Google the effects of AZT on newborns whose moms ARE HIV positive. You’ll be horrified.

    So I used the stress-induced insomnia to my advantage, stuffed my mangled post-partum body into support hose and heels and got myself some legal help to fight the courts for my boy. The HIV tests all came back negative, as we all knew they would. The drug tests were also negative. I got him back, but with some serious bonding& attachment difficulties. After 2 years of Church Lady Hell, I went back to school to get off welfare to try to avoid the worst of their whisper campaigns. It worked. They closed my file after about 3 1/2 years of pointless nagging about my housework. I did some psych research beyond my usual courseload so I could fanaggle my way through my doctor’s scoring grid. I got myself diagnosed with ADD so they could think I was medicated, so they would shutup about mental illness already. “You’re driving me crazy” is not an acceptable response to people like that.

    Another 5 busy, but somewhat comfy years passed. Just as I had feared, my son was diagnosed with problems. They say he’s in the moderate to severe Asperger’s range, but some of his symptoms don’t fit the model. I’ve always suspected the AZT messed him up. Unfortunately, I’m an ulcer-ridden wreck in constant fear of putting him in the FCS’ crosshairs again. I don’t dare question the diagnosis until his 18th birthday. Check it out on e-laws. Their mandates are out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They’re allowed to lock him up and force any treatment they want on him, up to and including ECT, shock therapy.

    I finished my college diploma and took a short break with him. He had shown so much improvement, I thought I could work on my employability again. I applied to university in 2008 and got accepted. Somewhere between regularly commuting 100km by hitchhiking and more tardiness issues, FCS were called again. I handed him off to relatives to protect him, and to try to salvage my school year. I spent the last of my grant money on a private lawyer so they couldn’t impose their conditions on the arrangement. Without my kids, I was no longer allowed to live in a subsidized 3 bedroom townhouse. All of my funding, including student loans, was reduced by 2 thirds, because I was a single person again. I was barely able to feed myself, let alone save up for first&last months’ rent. My credit score went into the toilet. I put my furniture in storage and left, hoping to move closer to my university. Nobody wanted to rent to me because of my now-ruined credit score and the fact that I again had to live between student loans and welfare.

    My student loan documents and welfare history were on file at the housing office. I’ve ranted on fp about the way my university treated me, but I thought the mistreatment was the fault of individuals who didn’t like my (lack of) fashion sense, or something. It wasn’t until I returned as a non-student to try to get a tax document that was sent to my old address that the ugly truth occurred to me. After the campus police served me with a No Trespass order–for buying breakfast in the school cafeteria–and told me that the staff had made complaints about me, I realized that FCS had probably poisoned the administration at my school with their ‘suspicions’ as well. Even after I had already tested negative for drugs and everything else, this slander continues to follow me. I spend as much time as I can with my kids, but I feel I have to do it in secret, so they don’t try to take him from my sister, too.

    So much for the American Dream in Canada. Somebody please wake me from this nightmare.

  13. Bah. Excuse the crappy editing in the second paragraph. I was about to type “There don’t have to be reasonable grounds…’ but decided to change that to “They don’t have to have…” to preserve the parallel sentence structure. I forgot to change “There” to “They”. It must be time for bed. I’m going cross-eyed again.

  14. Xena:

    You’ve undoubtedly received more well-intentioned good and bad advice than you want and need, so I’ll just suggest one thing: that you begin to blog on a regular basis about your experiences and their social significance.

    A lot of people are unaware of or close their eyes to situations like the ones you’ve been through and at the same time, I suspect that it does you good to write.

Comments are closed.