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The End of the American Dream

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The End of the American Dream

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)


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By Collin Bonnell

A recent study by the economist Gabriel Zucman drew attention when it revealed that the 400 richest Americans now possess more wealth than the collective bottom 150 million. While much of the reaction to this trend has focused on the morality of such a wealth concentration, I think it is important to specify what this means for my generation, which is coming of age during a time of unprecedented economic growth, yet can expect to benefit little from this growth.

It is a sad fact that millennials are the first generation since World War II which can expect to make less money than their parents. Despite being better educated, millennials on average make 20 percent less than their parents did at their age, have a 56 percent smaller net worth and much higher debt in the form of student loans. These economic stresses mean home ownership has also fallen among younger Americans.

Additionally, while national unemployment is nearing record lows, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is rising, and 75 percent of college seniors do not have a job lined up for when they graduate college.

To worsen the situation further, college students now graduate with an average of $37,172 in student loan debt, which often force recent college graduates to move back in with their parents after graduation, delaying their entry into the professional workforce. At the same time, the wages current students can expect to receive upon graduation are far lower than was the case for their parents.

Despite massive increases in productivity and immense economic growth, wages for the typical American worker have been stagnant for the past 40 years, and this trend is partially due to corporate consolidation. Since the 1980s, American antitrust laws have been restrained in such a way that many industries in the United States — including air travel, beverage production, pesticide and agricultural products, mobile app markets, food brands, travel agencies, internet providers, wall street and online retail — are all dominated by a handful of brands which act as effective monopolies.

This long-term trend of corporate consolidation and relaxed enforcement of antitrust laws means that the vast majority of Americans have not experienced the massive growth that the American economy has experienced since the 1980’s.

Corporate consolidation also means that my generation is entering the workforce during a time of unprecedented income and wealth inequality and has developed a negative perception of capitalism. Many political pundits were shocked when a Gallup poll in 2018 found that under 45 percent of young Americans view capitalism in a positive light while 51 percent viewed socialism positively, but I found it unsurprising. After all, my generation has witnessed all of the excesses of capitalism yet has experienced few of its benefits.

Corporate greed, for example, has had a massive impact on our daily lives. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the opioid epidemic.

While the opioid epidemic has several causes, the largest and most well-known was that of the dishonest business practices of the Sackler family which owns Purdue Pharma. During the late 2000s and early 2010s, the Sacklers made billions pushing opioid painkillers which they knew were extremely addictive, yet claimed had little potential for abuse.

Later, when the prescription opioid abuse crisis become apparent, Purdue publically repeated its claims that its products were not addictive, yet internally sought ways to profit from the crisis. When Purdue decided to invest in the booming market for addiction treatment, they chose a drug, Suboxone, which they knew was ineffective, predicting that 40-60 percent of patients on the drug would relapse and purchase more of Purdue’s opioids.

Since the Reagan administration, American economic policy has pursued relentless growth, deregulation and self-interest; the American voter has been led along with the false promises of “trickle-down” economics. While these priorities have resulted in unprecedented economic growth and increases in productivity, they have also carried few benefits for the vast majority of Americans. Indeed, they have ensured that the incomes of the very rich continue.

Our parents’ generation made the mistake of worshipping growth and the free market to the detriment of wealth equality, and as a result Americans coming of age today can expect lower wages, higher debt and a delayed entry into the professional workforce. Their mistake has robbed my generation of its right to experience the American Dream.

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The End of the American Dream