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The Betrayal of the American Dream -- A Once Vibrant Middle Class Is Now on the Brink

Donald Barlett and James Steele explain in their new book how American middle class has been impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite.

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DONALD BARLETT: And the other irony of this is—this is almost another Sandy Weill incident. You have the current head of AIG, who was not there during the collapse. He had nothing to do with it. He worked for another global insurance company. He was brought in after AIG collapsed, and the taxpayers bailed them out, and they still haven’t paid everything back yet. He was quoted as saying earlier this year that people are just going to have to get used to the idea of working until they are 70 or 80. Now, he made that pronouncement from his villa in Dubrovnik in Croatia.

You’re going to work 'til you're 80? We have a friend down who, you know, is a job recruiter, basically. And she said, "Look," she said, "if you’re over 50 now, you’re going to have trouble getting a job." She said, "I hate to say it, but I tell people, 'You can't look your age anymore. You really can’t.’" And she’s talking about somebody in their fifties and maybe 60. Eighty? You’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, we have Betty.

JAMES STEELE: Yeah, there’s a woman in the book—

DONALD BARLETT: A woman in the book.

JAMES STEELE: —who is solely dependent on Social Security, as millions of Americans are, who had to continue to work well beyond 65. She actually for a long time delivered meals, Meals on Wheels, to people in some cases younger than herself. She worked for a tax preparation company for another 20 years until she was laid off in her late eighties. Still looking for work at this point. That’s very true of many people. So, even if you get a job, though, you’re going to be putting pressure on the other end of the workforce.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly—

DONALD BARLETT: And the one job I was counting on was being a greeter at Walmart. Now Wal-Mart has killed their greeter program. I mean, so, what are you going to do?

AMY GOODMAN: Veterans, what they used to face, what they face today?

JAMES STEELE: One of the places we visited was a veterans center outside of Fort Myers, Florida. And this is what brought the mortgage crisis home to really us. It isn’t the story of people who just are buying a house who maybe should not own a house. Many of the veterans in that center had owned houses for many years. But some of them had been tricked by the circumstances of their mortgage. Some had lost their home. Some were on the verge of losing their home. These are after people—some of these people, their service went back, a couple of them to World War II, many to the Korean War, Vietnam, and so forth. Beyond that, the young veterans coming into this center, some of whom have done all the right things—they had served multiple tours of duty. One, in particular, had gone back to college, gotten his degree, but then began to look at what was available out there and was thinking about re-enlisting, then in his mid-thirties, because he saw no real job opportunities.

This is one of the underlying things of the book. We make the point, yeah, manufacturing got hammered and continues to be get hammered over time, but our jobs are supposed to be these knowledge-based jobs, the smart jobs, the service jobs. These are now—the whole process that began eliminating the blue-collar jobs has now moved into the white-collar field, with a real vengeance. Even the Labor Department is finally sensing this. And they had a study a couple years ago. It said 160 service occupations, 25 percent of the entire service workforce, is susceptible to offshore.

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