Dear Editor,

Could you come up with $400 in an emergency? It turns out that 40 percent of Americans can’t. We learned during the government shutdown that many workers live paycheck to paycheck (78 percent). This past month has underlined just how fragile this economy is for the majority of our citizens.

The American Dream is now the American Myth. We used to believe that by working hard, getting an education and being persistent one could succeed in the U.S., but that often isn’t enough. Most people who get food stamps work (often more than one job) and are white. Lower income people often pay more for services than their wealthier counterparts, for example, bank fees due to not maintaining a minimum balance. The median income for American workers (adjusted for inflation) has not changed since 1979, while costs have soared. (Source: Pew Research Center)

We used to believe that Americans had upward mobility, that is, the ability to do better than your family of origin. Now it is more likely that families will be less well off than their parents. It is easier to move upward in Europe than the U.S. nowadays. The tax law passed last year just made life easier for the already well to do. It did not help the “paycheck to paycheck” crowd much.

If you are struggling, you are not alone.

As George Carlin opined, “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Until tax policies revert to brackets that existed in the 1960s and 70s, lower income Americans will continue to do worse. Government will be less able to make a difference in their lives, mostly due to priorities and lack of revenue. Some politicians are now making the case for greater tax fairness. If you would have difficulty coming up with $400 in an emergency, you would do well to pay attention.


Dr. Paul A. Haupt