Goodbye, Liberty! 10 Ways Americans Are No Longer Free
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4. We're losing the ability to rise up from poverty, earn a decent living, or work in the career of our choice.
The periodic economic shocks caused by our banking system allowed employers to demand wage concessions while paying ever-increasing salaries and bonuses to their senior executives. The power of unions has been systematically eroded. The drive to provide ever-increasing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans has led to a decline government jobs, which has shriveled job opportunities in many lines of work.
The key to social mobility is education, and that doorway to opportunity has been steadily closing. A study from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education showed that, as the University of Virginia's Miller Center puts it, “Since the mid-1980s the costs of higher education in America have steadily shifted from the taxpayer to the student and family.”
The study shows that during a period when median family income rose by 147%, college tuition and fees rose 439%. That's a tripling of education costs, in real dollar terms. The impact has been greatest on lower-income families. As the New York Times notes: “Among the poorest families — those with incomes in the lowest 20 percent — the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000. At community colleges, long seen as a safety net, that cost was 49 percent of the poorest families’ median income last year, up from 40 percent in 1999-2000.”
Some career options aren't even available anymore. Want to be a writer or reporter? Nearly 4,000 jobs in this area will disappear in this decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A teacher? They're cutting those jobs back to help pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Post Office employee? Ditto. The death of American manufacturing means that lower-income young people can't move into the middle class. Working-class kids can't even follow in their parents' blue-collar footsteps. They're falling behind their parents.
Those who have jobs find it increasingly impossible to lead a decent life. The US has a much higher percentage of low-income workers than most other developed countries. The New America Foundation observed that the share of middle-income jobs in this country has fallen from 52 percent to 42 percent since 1980, while the share of low-income jobs rose from 30 percent t0 41 percent. The fundamental rights we were told we had as Americans – to choose our careers, find a job, and live a decent life if we worked hard – are disappearing rapidly.
5. We no longer have the right to personal time.
Most developed nations recognize that the right to the "pursuit of happiness” includes the ability to enjoy leisure time – in the evenings, on weekends, and on vacation. But each of these rights is being lost to the systematic reversal of gains that Americans first started making in the 19th century.
The US is one of the few developed nations that doesn't require employers to offer paid vacation time to their employees. Employees are increasingly unable to take the vacation time they've been promised. A survey published last May showed that many employees find it difficult to take vacation time. Some said there's nobody to cover for them because of staff cutbacks. Others said they couldn't afford it, the result of the same wage stagnation which has enriched their bosses. Still more said they felt pressure from the boss not to take any time off.
A long-term study of 12,000 men with heart disease showed that those who took vacations lived longer. In a society where fewer and fewer people can take time off, that means more people are literally “working themselves to death.”