In our country, we’ve long held to an ideal called the “American Dream”, comprised of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s actually more than an ideal, it’s something we feel is a birthright of ours. Every American is entitled to the opportunity of wealth and success, and for those who don’t achieve, it’s because they just weren’t trying hard enough. However, recent New York Times article is saying quite the opposite, that we’re stifling our own chances for the American dream and it’s Canadians (and Europeans) who are getting it instead.
The Working Life
With the exception of a few born into wealth, the rest of us have to work hard to carve out a decent living for ourselves. Most of us are prepared to do that, too, and put up with long hours at the office it means the freedom and flexibility to do what we’d like with our free time.
But how much time exactly should it take to establish ourselves? A 40-hour workweek is a notion we’re accustomed to, as well as a bit of overtime. For professions like law or medicine, that number can easily exceed 40 each week. When we look at our neighbors to the north, though, we’re working 4.6% more hours than they are and they’re reaching middle class more comfortably than we are.
Looking into Europe, the gap becomes even wider: we work 21% more hours each week than the French, and 28% more than the Germans. What is it about their economies and countries that allow them to reach a comfortable living style without having to seemingly break their backs to get there? And how has Canada pulled ahead of us in the middle class by bringing in a higher average of after-tax income?
At the End of the Day…
…this effort is killing us and Americans die earlier than our neighbors. Our lifespan is pretty good, especially when viewed in light to that of developing countries. But we’re America — a big and rich country that can do anything it wants. Why, then, is the country one-tenth our size to the north of us outliving us? And why are our women twice as likely to die in childbirth than theirs?
Our healthcare system may have a big part to do with it, because medical attention is no good unless you can pay for it and we demand that that happens at the beginning. But no matter whether you agree it’s better to have a socialist system like Canada’s or an individually-responsible system like ours where people only pay for what they’re using, this comparison still seems off:
Canadians pay for healthcare with their tax dollars, leaving their after-tax income entirely for themselves
Americans pay for healthcare with their after-tax income, leaving less money for ourselves
The Pursuit of Wealth
You may have your eyebrows a bit raised by this point and be thinking the road ahead will be a tough slog, but it’s manageable and there’s something waiting for you at the other end. And there is, but it’s quickly being gobbled up by fewer and fewer people; the wealth is becoming focused in just a few hands instead of available for others. Take a look at these three data points listed in the New York Times article:
The top 1 percent in America now own assets worth more than those held by the entire bottom 90 percent
The six Walmart heirs are worth as much as the bottom 41 percent of American households put together
The top six hedge fund managers and traders averaged more than $2 billion each in earnings last year, partly because of the egregious “carried interest” tax break.
In short, we’re slowly losing our connection to the American dream by taking one brick at a time out of the road that leads there.