THE NEW FRUGALTY – American Upward Mobility Threatened

The idea of American upward mobility has remained a constant throughout our history. Americans expect their sons and daughters to do better than they. They expect class barriers, which have plagued other countries, not apply in the good ‘ol US of A. Yet as the country comes out of The Great Recession, that expectation is being seriously challenged. American upward mobility may become a myth, a legend, a distant memory.

Americans today realize their future is far from certain and it certainly is not equitable. The economy is unstable. Jobs are transitory. More and more it seems the “suits” are more interested in gaming the system, making the big score and screwing everyone rather than creating a strong economy and nation. This cynicism has Americans suspecting the belief in upward mobility. A recent article in THE ECONOMIST outlined these concerns. At the center of these concerns were some statistics that yes, indeed, American upward mobility was an endangered species.

When “The Great Recession” struck, it occurred just as the widest disparity between the haves and the have-nots had grown. The rich were getting richer, much richer. The poor were slipping down the economic grease pole. Some critics have asserted that this slippage encouraged The Great Recession. They assert people felt the frugal,disparity growing and actively sought to grab their share before it vanished. They bought the bigger house and the bigger SUV. They incurred the larger debt. It was all part of the American dream of moving up the social ladder. The concepts of thrift and frugality were for the old foogeys, not for the forward thinkers. These forward thinkers were doers and they were becoming ‘players’, even if it was only in their own minds. American optimism about upward mobility was hitting a high note.

Unfortunately, like the Emperor’s new clothes, there was a naked truth. The Great Recession brought this all back to roost. Some people suffered more than others. THE ECONOMIST story cited some facts. In their survey nearly 40% of the people surveyed thought they had less opportunity than their parents. This was 4% more than just a few years ago. A pessimism was seeping in. Perhaps this natural during an economic downturn, but it continues. Even in the early part of this decade, men made 12% less in real terms than their fathers. This isn’t pessimism, it is a decline. Families made up the difference by having two incomes. Americans were working harder to tread water.
As the recession abates, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots will not shrink. It will grow. Prosperity will not automatically trickle down. Here is another astonishing statistic. In 2008, the richest 10% of Americans earned nearly 50% of all the income in the US. That number is even greater than the disparity exhibited in 1928, a year before the Great Depression started. For those lacking in historical perspective, that was when the Fat Cats really ruled. The desire for upward mobility may be there, but the reality is quickly slipping into myth status.

The irony of this is that this concept is eluding far too many voters. They listen to the words of pundits who spout talking points of ‘free enterprise’ ‘individual responsibility’ or ‘competition’ without looking beyond the words. A product is being sold to them and they’re buying. Their place in this society diminishing and rather than look at for what it is, they look for easier causes, easier targets. Perhaps this is why the Tea Party movement has gained a level of ascendancy.

In the movies, how many times have we seen where the protagonist follows the money because at the end of that trail, the center of a corruption will be found. Follow the money in this case, and you’ll find people who don’t want Americans to have social mobility. They don’t want the competition. Money makes people conservative. Lots of money makes people reactionaries. Reactiofrugal,naries don’t like company.

From opinions to savvy tips, the Frugal Yankee knows how to enjoy life and spend less. Find out more by going to While you’re there, sign up for the Frugal Yankee Newsletter –  tips, factoids, jokes and more.
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