What Is Wrong

22 Sep

There were, by official estimates, over three hundred and seven million citizens of the United States in 2009. These citizens produced or provided over fourteen and a half trillion dollars worth of goods and services. That means that the United States produces over forty seven thousand dollars per citizen, every year.

Well not per person.

Only about half the population, or one hundred and fifty six million people, is actually a member of the workforce. Official unemployment is at nine point nine percent of the workforce. When expanded to include marginally attached and partially employed people, this number jumps to over seventeen percent. Over fourteen percent of the United States population is below the poverty line, which for individuals is ten thousand eight-hundred dollars. In a given ten year span, two out of every five Americans will spend time living below the poverty line. In the past twenty years, the United States’ economy has more than doubled, even after being adjusted for inflation. Median income on the other hand, has increased by a little over sixteen percent in that same time period.

The United States is also overwhelmingly in debt, and the government has actually been getting better than the rest of us. In 1946 the United States government owed one hundred and fifty percent of the GDP. Currently federal debt is at fifty four percent of GDP. On the other hand debt owed by the financial sector has gone from one point three percent of GDP to over one hundred and nine percent of GDP. Households have gone from owing fifteen percent of GDP to over ninety five percent. At every level the United States is over leveraged.

Money isn’t the only problem. The Infrastructure of the United States is hurting too. And by hurting, I mean almost completely failing. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the over all infrastructure of the United States a “D” grade. The highest rated segment of the infrastructure was solid waste management, with a lackluster C+. As mentioned before, the size of the United States economy has more than doubled (in real dollars) since 1990, yet spending on infrastructure has been going down (in real dollars) since 1980. Even as more than twice the money was made available actual spending dropped. ASCE estimates that due to lack of maintenance the current cost of bringing the United States infrastructure back into shape would be over two trillion dollars.

United States education is falling behind the rest of the “developed” world. Public schools cost more than private schools to run and continue to see worse results. The cost per student in the United States is the highest of any country, roughly eleven thousand dollars per student, per year. Yet this cost is not helping students to perform better. The cost of a college education, critical to the growth of the skilled work force, has increased by over four hundred and thirty nine percent between 1982 and 2007. During that same period (unadjusted) income increased by only one hundred and forty seven percent. The cost of college is growing three times as fast as the average American’s ability to pay for it.

The United States has four main problems: income distribution, a lack of capital, deteriorating infrastructure, and a dwindling ability to educate its people to address the problems of tomorrow. These four problems will determine our ability to move forward. Solving them is absolutely critical to fixing the American reality and bringing it closer to the American Dream. There will be no quick fixes. None of these problems will be addressed by the next election cycle. Nor will they be fixed by the fourth election cycle after that. But if we don’t move now, when we finally do, it may be too late.

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

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