“Make America Great Again” was not original with this administration. President Reagan used it in his 1979 campaign. And it resonated with many Americans then. A sense that America is no longer as great as it used to be began with conditions emerging in the 1960s. And the chant “U.S.A. We’re Number One” became empty long ago.
By the 1970s, parents began to realize that, on average, the next generation would not be making as much money or living as well. The Post-War boom in education and living standards had ended. Average wages and salaries not only stagnated, but adjusted for increases in cost-of-living, average income has declined. In purchasing power, the average U.S. public school teacher’s salary was highest in 1971.
Harvard economists did the figures: children born in 1950 had an 80 percent chance of exceeding their parents’ income, those born in 1970 dropped to 61 percent, and the majority of children born after 1980 now have lower incomes than their parents.
Pew just analyzed Census Bureau data and found only 24 percent of young adults were financially independent by 22. In 1980, 32 percent of young adults were financially independent at that age. Parents did not need a Pew survey to know this; far more of their children are living at home. Pew also found 45 percent of adults of age 18 to 29 reported receiving financial help from their parents. And 59 percent of parents say they support their adult children of all ages.
For two years now, America has no longer been the top producer of science research papers in journals. As for funding research as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. has now dropped to tenth. Public support for our space program faded after the moon landing; with the retirement of the space shuttles, we now have to hitch rides on Russian rockets.
Our K–12 science coursework is barely one-third of the content taught in developed Europe and Asia. Asian and European students dominate the TIMSS and PISA international tests; American students perform mid-range or lower. Despite (and perhaps because of) our spending dramatically more on classroom electronics, scores on our own standardized tests are declining as well.
America has never had as many millionaires as today. But our middle class is shrinking. Childhood poverty is increasing. U.S. economic disparity grows. We have low unemployment but high underemployment. We are number one in incarceration rates, with one of every two American adults having a family member go to jail for at least one night, and one in seven having a family member imprisoned for at least a year.
Women surpassed men in attending college by 2003, with 51 percent of women ages 18–24 in college but only 41 percent of boys. That gap has expanded dramatically with some colleges now seeing over 70 percent women enrollment. This is a good indicator for women. But there is a severe “boy problem” with videogaming pulling males from school. Even with higher numbers of women entering higher education, the total proportion of Americans pursuing college in the U.S. has continually dropped. Comparing five year cohorts over the last two decades, the younger post-college-age cohorts have a lower level of education than older generations. Simply, Americans are becoming less educated.
Indeed, many Americans do not believe in education. A 2019 University of Nebraska Department of Agricultural Economics poll found only 33 percent believed that increasing the number of people who get college degrees was necessary to build a strong economy, down from over half in an earlier poll. Many such surveys confirm Richard Hofstadter’s analysis in “Anti-intellectualism in American Life” published in 1963. In America, intellectuals are considered “...pretentious, conceited, effeminate, and snobbish; and very likely immoral, dangerous and subversive.” The common sense of the common man is to be preferred. American students rarely proclaim “I want to be an intellectual.” They would be called “nerds” and “geeks.” But in Asia and Europe, cultures value “intellectuals.”
Five countries now exceed us in higher gross household income. 45 countries exceed us in life expectancy. Indeed, life expectancy continues to go up in all developed countries except the U.S., where it has now declined! Eighteen countries exceed us on a happiness scale of 14 criteria, from economic security to safety to lack of corruption.
Americans have a high level of stress — 55 percent compared to a global average of 35 percent — according to a Gallop poll. The Economist reports that the global suicide rate has declined 29 percent since 2000 while the U.S. suicide rate has risen 18 percent in that time, mostly due to quality of life for middle-aged males without college degrees.
America remains number one in military power, greater than the eight next largest militaries combined! We are afraid. YouGov polling finds 64 percent of us fear another world war will erupt in the next 40 years.
It has taken the U.S. over 40 years to decline and there is no turnaround in site. While most other countries continue to advance, it would likely take an equal period of dramatic educational and economic reforms for the U.S. to regain any status near the top.