The Causey Consulting Podcast

Whatever Happened to the Middle Class American Dream?

September 01, 2022
The Causey Consulting Podcast
Whatever Happened to the Middle Class American Dream?
Show Notes Transcript

IMO, we are in a K shaped economy. The ultra-rich aren't suffering from inflation as meanwhile, there are people who never fully recovered from 2008. So whatever happened to the good, old-fashioned Middle Class American Dream?

Key topics:

✔️ As a schoolkid in the 1980s Midwest, we heard it alllll the time: as long as you behave and work hard, you can be anything! You can be an astronaut, the President, a scientist who cures cancer. Later on, you're told that actually, no, not really and all that hopium is on par with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
✔️ "Just like everything else, those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went..."
✔️ Instead of the little house in the burbs with a white picket fence, is it now the 375 sf box home?


Links I discuss in this episode:

https://americansongwriter.com/billy-joel-allentown/

https://genius.com/John-mellencamp-pink-houses-lyrics

https://www.amazon.com/Squeezed-Families-Cant-Afford-America/dp/0062412264/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1661635970&sr=8-1


Need more? Email me: https://causeyconsultingllc.com/contact-causey/

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Welcome to the Causey Consulting Podcast. You can find his online anytime at CauseyConsultingLLC.com. And now, here's your host, Sara Causey. Hello, Hello, and thanks for tuning in. In this episode, I want to talk about the middle class and working poor struggle, especially in light of the fact that I believe in my opinion only and I could be wrong. I believe that we are in a K shaped economy, where we see the ultra wealthy and elites getting richer and richer and able to weather whatever storm comes, whether it's inflation, or hyperinflation or recession, and so on, while people in the bottom rungs of the ladder seem to be getting more and more squeezed. Although it may seem difficult for some people to wrap their minds around, there are people that got pummeled in the Great Recession of Oh, eight that never really recovered. They're still suffering from what happened to them during that recession. So what will happen this time around? I'm not a psychic, or all seeing Oracle from ancient times, I don't know. And I would never claim to know that I have some piece by piece inside information of exactly what is about to happen, either in the American economy or on the global stage, I most certainly do not. I'm not a billionaire or a hedge fund manager for billionaires, I don't sit on the web. I'm not a power broker. I'm just a normal, everyday individual trying to read the tea leaves and figure all of this mess out as best I can. I've recently been reading the book squeezed, why our families can't afford America by Alyssa court. And it was published originally, I think, in 2018. So it is sort of interesting to watch documentaries and read books that were written about a decade after the Great Recession hit what lessons have we learned who has rebounded who has not interesting, although depressing, to be honest. And one of the topics that she covers, it's interwoven throughout the various stories that are in this book, is this notion of whatever happened to the American dream, whatever happened to somebody saying, I want to do just a little bit better than my parents, you know, and parents and grandparents looking at kids and grandkids with a sense of hope. And I may have had it rough things might have been very difficult for me, but there'll be better for the next generation. Whatever happened to that being able to look at a comfortable middle class lifestyle, which I think is what most people not, most people are not, in my opinion, wanting to go out and blow absurd amounts of money on meaningless BS, huge sports cars, and crazy tropical adventure vacations and mansions and all of this. I think a lot of people are just wondering whatever happened to the good old fashion, standard operating procedure, middle class American dream, we had a little house with a yard, you could have a couple of kids running around and a cat and a dog and some stability, some predictability and some stability in your job. And then when you retire, you would have a pension or 401k, or something as a safety net. And there was just that sense that everything was going to be okay. We really don't have that anymore. And so part of what court does in this book is chronicle Where did it go? What is actually happening in reality now behind any kind of propaganda or smokescreens? And then where did it go? At what point did everything shift in a different direction? One of the songs that's been on my mind a lot lately is Allentown by Billy Joel. It came out I think, in 1982, and somewhere around here, I still actually have my vinyl copy of that album, The nylon curtain. Every so often, I'll go back and get my LPs out and just have a little stroll down memory lane. But I want to read part of an article for you now that is on American songwriter.com course I'll drop a link to it so you can check it out for yourself. As we celebrate Labor Day, it's only natural to think of songs that honestly and sympathetically depict the working man and woman. In the 1980s. Many of the most successful singer songwriters people like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp wailed about the trials and tribulations of everyday people and their occupations. A whole genre called Heartland rock seemed to spring from those songs. Billy Joel was never really a part of that movement. And he often didn't enjoy the critical respect of the Affer mentioned troubadours. You would be hard pressed to find a song that addressed the plight of the put upon labor or better than Allentown, Joel's top 20 hit from 1982. That was the year that Joel released the nylon curtain, his most ambitious album, both in terms of the Sonics of the music and the subject matter of the lyrics to that point. For Allentown, he reworked a set of lyrics he had previously written about Levittown, New York, becoming inspired when he heard about the struggles of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania steel industry. I know people who move to places like this to these boom towns, Joel told told Billboard magazine in 1983, they were promised a job and it didn't work out. The whole romanticism of unions and factories had gone right down the toilet. But it's still a hopeful song. What I'm saying is that it's getting hard to stay here. But we're American, and we're going to stick it out, we have hope. But we don't have that limitless, boundless future outlook that our parents had after the war, there's been a monkey wrench thrown in the works in quote. Now, before I say my piece on this, I want to read you some of the lyrics that I think are particularly poignant. While we're waiting here in Allentown, for the Pennsylvania we never found for the promises our teachers gave, if we worked hard, if we behaved, so the graduations hanging on the wall, but they never really helped us at all. No, they never taught us what was real iron and Coke, and chromium steel. And we're waiting here in Allentown, but they've taken all the coal from the ground, and the union people crawled away, every child had a pretty good shot, to get at least as far as their old man got, but something happened on the way to that place, they threw an American flag in our face. Yep. So I can't, I cannot speak to anybody else's experience and wouldn't try to, I know that depending on where you're at in the country, or where you're at in the world. You know, this, this podcast goes out all over the globe. So there's people that are not living in America, and you know, your experience may have different, all I can do is speak to my own experience, and that of my immediate peers. And if you were going to school, in the Midwest, in the 1980s, you based on my experience, and that of my immediate peers, I'm telling you, that message got put down your throat constantly, it was ubiquitous, and it was just all the time, if you work hard. If you behave, then you're going to get ahead in life, you know, you need to graduate from high school, and then you need to make some decisions about college or votec. Or, if your family owns and operates a business, you need to have enough education and ability to plug in at that business and be productive. But you know, if you sit down and you toe the line, and you do what we're telling you is important, then you've got a pretty good shot to get at least as far as your parents did. But you ought to be able to better your situation. And then when you grow up and you have kids, then they'll be better off, and then the grandkids will be better off. And within your lifetime, you'll be able to see all of this Betterment happening, and it'll be great. But you need to get that diploma. You need to study Don't misbehave, don't get in any kind of vise, just, you know, sit down and tow that line. And you can be anything. I mean, we heard it all the time. You can be an astronaut, you could be the president, you could be a scientist who finds the cure for cancer, you could be the CEO of a company, you can be anything, huh? Yeah, something did happen on the way to that place now for you know, as exercise grown up in the 80s and 90s. It wasn't that they threw an American flag in our face. We didn't get drafted off to go to Vietnam or anything like that. But when you when you got further along in school, and you were like in high school, let's so let's say elementary school and middle school, you were you were still getting this, Hey, you can be anything you want to be you just dream big. And as long as you mind your manners and you do good in school, the world is your oyster. But then as you got further up, so you start to get towards that end part of high school where you're having to meet with a guidance counselor. And I honestly don't even know if they still have those in the schools anymore. I would doubt it. But back in the day, when you had to go and meet with the guidance counselor. That's really when it was like the scales were removed from before your eyes. And it was like yeah, okay, so that's, that's sort of like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy. We tell all of you that you can be anything you want to be. And as long as you do well in school and you mind your manners and you listen to authority figures in your life, then you've got a really good shot of being anything that you can dream of. But now we're going to tell you the truth. You're gonna have to go to college or you're gonna have to go to vo tech, and you're gonna have to plug in somewhere and be a peon, you're gonna have to pay those dues, you're gonna have to work hard and hey, you know, maybe you're gonna make it maybe you won't, I mean, we'll just kind of let the chips fall where they may be It's like, wait a minute, what? That you spent all of these years regaling us with this propaganda and we could be literally anything we wanted to be and the sky's the limit, if you can, if you can dream it, you can do it. And then we get here and it's like, Nah, you're gonna have to go to some crummy college somewhere and study, I don't know, something completely boring and asinine. Oh, and then you're going to have a load of student debt. And you know, maybe it's going to work out for you. Maybe it's not next. Oh, great. Great. Great. Yeah. So thanks for that. Thanks for that. hopium. This also reminds me of another song from that same pocket of time. It's been on my mind a lot lately. Pink houses by John Mellencamp. Now back then. Back then he was still the Kook, you still John Cougar. Mellencamp and I probably have this LP, somewhere around I would bet. And in my collection, I have to go look sometime. But there's a verse in that song that that goes, well, there's a young man and a T shirt, listening to a rock'n'roll station. He's got greasy hair, and a greasy smile. And he says, Lord, this must be my destination. Because they told me when I was younger, said, Boy, you're going to be president. But just like everything else, those all crazy dreams just kind of came and went. I have no doubt there probably is someone you know that that Mellencamp knew in when he was writing the lyrics for that song, probably sitting there imagining someone that he knew who was told the same thing, like, like I'm saying, you heard it all the time back then be an astronaut. Maybe President you're gonna cure cancer? Oh, no, no, no, not really, you know, once you got to be 1617 years old, and it was time to think about the next institution that you were gonna have to devote your life to, which would be college vo tech are some jobs somewhere, that that's when the curtain got pulled back. And you were told, Well, actually, no, no, not really. Later in that same song. There's another verse that really resonates for me. And it says, well, there's people and more people, what do they know, go to work in some high rise and vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico. And there's winners and there's losers, but they ain't no big deal. Because the simple man baby pays the bills and the thrills and the pills that kill. That's it. That's it. I feel like a broken record, you know, but it's like, who are we going to have to bail out next? Now you can make the argument. Okay, I'm probably going to get hate mail. And so that's fine. You can make the argument we've already been asked for the first round of bailouts, which was for student loans. I don't have a dog in this fight. I already had already paid my student loans off. So don't Don't come at me. Oh, you're gonna be taking that bailout money to? Indeed I am not, indeed, I am not. I had already paid my loans off. And so I I don't have a dog in the hunt here. I don't. But you could make the argument that that's the first round of bailouts that we're being asked for. What's going to be next auto loans, Wall Street bankers, new construction that's going to fold up the housing market? I don't know. I don't know. But I think 2008 really set an interesting precedent of Wall Street, going to the government and saying, hey, hey, gotta got our hat in our hand here. Oh, buddy, can you give us some of that sweet, sweet taxpayer money as a bailout? Now, our CEOs are not ever going to go to jail for what we've done. They're going to abscond with hundreds of millions of dollars they're gonna go right back into business and do the same nonsense all over again. But can we get our hands on some nuts? We taxpayer money Thank you kindly. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see that happen again. You know, and those fat cats in places of power in my opinion, very much see all of us is the simple man that's going to be the the simpletons, the little folks on the bottom of the ladder, that have to give up their taxpayer money to pay for our bills and thrills and pills. And you know, that's just fine because they're, they're peons. Anyway, we're the feudal lords where the power brokers were the ones in real control here so it's totally fine for us to reach into their pocket books. They don't matter anyway. I hope I am wrong on that. I really truly do but I I just don't think that I am. I want to read a little bit for you now from Alyssa Cortes book squeezed. Middle class used to mean having two children and sending them to high quality public schools or even occasionally to private schools. It meant new brown stride, right Mary Jane's with little purple and silver flowers when the old shoes were pinching the toes. It meant homeownership, not for us, but for others like us. Nothing fancy but a proper ranch house with a garage. It meant weekends off with your family sometimes spent at a matinee at a movie palace or a play thanks to a theater subscription, and workdays then ended at six so that the family all ate dinner together. And of course, it meant saving money, as well as being able to pay for the children's college education. For the American middle class. Now, these markers of middle class life are less and less common. The middle class is endangered on all sides and the promised rewards of belonging to it have all been evaporated. This decline has also led to a degradation of self image. Before the 2008 crash, only one quarter of Americans viewed themselves as lower class or lower middle class. Even those who were struggling tended to view their problems as temporary no longer after the recession of 2008, which, though caused by the financial crash, could actually be said to have exposed or congealed decades of social class separation and downward mobility. Since the Reagan era of full 40% of Americans viewed themselves as being at the bottom of the pyramid. For the first time since pollsters had asked this question, fewer than half of those interviewed said that they were middle class only 44%. According to a Pew study. Meanwhile, the wealthy with wealthier defined as assets minus debt stand in stark relief to the middle precariat. A 2014. Russell Sage Foundation report puts the net worth of the top 5% at $1.3 million. The incomes of the top one to 5% have grown explosively in the past three decades, while the incomes of so many others have stagnated, in quote, some of the individuals profiled in this book are squeezed by the economy because they got pregnant and their boss disapproved of it. Or they're being squeezed by the insane cost of childcare. Some of them went to school to get a degree and became what is labeled in this book is hyper educated, they have master's degrees and PhDs. They wanted to become a tenured professor, they wanted to get into some kind of scientific research job, they got hyper educated because they believe this idea that by doing so they would be guaranteed to have a job and it would pay well enough that they could not only afford the apartment they're renting or the house that they would wish to purchase, as well as being able to pay back the debt. And then they did it and made the commitment and found out that that was not indeed the case. We also have dads that are driving for Uber, as well as school teachers that are driving for Uber because they need that in order to make ends meet the rising cost of housing, nannies who are struggling people who live in or who work for affluent families during the day, and then they have to send their own children out somewhere else for childcare. Then we talk about also the the rise of what she calls the rise of 1%. Television. What she defines as being 1% television would be televised narratives about a 1% or close to it that acts with impunity. So shows about the ultra wealthy the deals that they're brokering the way that they're behaving. dynasty would be one example of that. And then in the final chapter, she talks about people in the working class who are being squeezed out by robotics and I, again, I hope I'm wrong on this. But I do think that we are going to see more of that you have talked before about getting some kind of ad on social media about hey, if you want to invest in something invest in this automated restaurant, it was like a fast food restaurant that was going to be completely and totally inhabited by robots and I'm like, no thanks. But you know, somebody will, somebody will invest in that. I also saw an ad recently for the Vauxhall Casita, which is described as being an amazing 375 square foot adu that's delivered. They set it up I think, in the course of one day, and it has a bathroom, kitchen and appliances. But all of this is condensed down into like 350 375 square feet. I didn't even know what an adu was like What even is this? I didn't look it up. So apparently it's an accessory dwelling unit. And I think Lord Ilan, at one point in time said he was living in a tiny house or one of these little casita things. Yeah, I don't know. Maybe that is what's going to be pushed upon us as the next form of middle class American Dream. Okay, well, you can't have the little house out in the burbs. With the white picket fence, you're not going to be able to have the two kids and the dog and the cat out in the yard. But you can have an adu. You can instead have a little tiny house that's about the size of what your bedroom used to be before you know what your your parents or grandparents who actually did have some shot at middle class life. You know the size of their master bedroom is going to be the size of your entire house, but you know, people are doing great I know you better laugh and cry, I guess. Again, I hope I'm wrong. I hope that we are not in a K shaped economy. And I hope that there's nothing brewing up in the economy. You know, maybe this is a temporary glitch in the Matrix, maybe it's a temporary bump in the road, a little a little short term, bear market, and then things are going to turn around, inflation will abate, the job market will stabilize out, as I said, have said before, just my opinion, I do not believe that we currently have 3.5% unemployment with two legitimate open jobs for everyone unemployed person, I don't think that's the case. Maybe corporate America will not demand a return to the office, maybe there will be some way for everyone to get a situation that works out in the best possible way for them. And if you enjoy working from home and being fully remote, you can do that. If you want to go back to an office and be chatty Cathy the extrovert, and talk to everybody all day long. Maybe you can do that. Maybe there is some utopia, where everybody gets what they want. I don't know. I find, I find that a little hard to believe. That goes back to what it was like to be a school kid in the 1980s getting all of this information pumped into you that you can be anything that you want to be an astronaut, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, President, whatever. And then you sit down with the guidance counselor when you're 16 or 17. And they're like, no, no, that's, that's like the tooth fairy or old Sandy Claus. You're gonna have to actually pick something and try to earn a living. Oh, if I'm wrong, time will tell. In the meantime, stay safe. stay sane. I'll see you in the next episode. We hope you enjoyed today's episode. If you haven't already, please take a quick second to subscribe to this podcast and share it with your friends. Thanks for tuning in. We'll see you next time.