By Charles H. Green
From Chengdu, China
Reading a recent opinion survey from Gallup is like arriving on another planet:
Fewer Americans believe there is “plenty of opportunity” to get ahead in America today than have said so across three previous measurement points over the last 59 years. A bare majority (52%) say the country has plenty of economic opportunity, down from 57% in 2011 and more substantially from 81% in 1998.
As a member of the “baby-boomer” generation, these opinions are counterintuitive to the mantra I’ve been taught and optimism I’ve embraced my entire life. Having graduated high school in the year of our national bicentennial, my education was rooted in the notion that hard work and sacrifice were the keys to a better life, boundless opportunity and reaching dreams as high as you cared to dream.
While the U.S. has historically prided itself on its open-ended economic mobility –
celebrating famous “rags to riches” stories like those told by Horatio Alger or lived by Oprah Winfrey – rising income inequality and abnormally high unemployment rates have caused many to question the accuracy of this nationally cherished belief. Many politicians have focused on reducing societal inequality as a key part of their policy initiatives, and President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for creating a society that allows ordinary Americans to have more of a chance to succeed.
This news comes as even more of a shock perhaps because I am on the waning days of a fifteen-day tour of China. My experience has witnessed an endless vista of high-rise construction projects, a sea of public employees cleaning streets daily and energetic media reports of improving environmental controls, banking systems and news about ongoing foreign trade talks with several countries since my arrival.
The Chinese are very busy building their future while U.S. extremist politicians caused our government to shutdown and threaten the world’s leading credit rating.
Can’t we do better (again)?