Thanks again to the indispensable Walter Russell Mead, I ran across this piece from the Washington Post telling the chilling truth that 1 in 3 Americans who began their lives middle class has slipped “down the income ladder.”
It’s certainly true that this number includes hard-working Americans who’ve fallen on hard times, folks who’ve made all the best decisions but face involuntary job loss, medical bills, or other misfortunes. But who is hardest hit?
Downward mobility is most common among middle-class people who are divorced or separated from their spouses, did not attend college, scored poorly on standardized tests, or used hard drugs, the report says.
As Mead says, there is a fairly simple strategy for staying middle class: Go to college, get married, stay married, and stay off the hard drugs. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but do those things and the odds are with you. Deviate from that formula and your life is harder. It’s pretty simple in concept; sometimes difficult in execution.
I like Mead’s conclusion:
Do those simple things and the odds are on your side. The keys to a financially successful life seem to be family, education, sobriety. Seems boring and obvious, doesn’t it? But it also suggests that American life isn’t quite as bad as the press wants to paint it.
There are lots of scary economic trends out there, but pessimism can be overdone. Take a deep breath and relax, millennials. The press hypes bad economic news and troubling trends the same way it hypes hurricanes and for the same reason: panic sells.
America is still a place where hard work and smart thinking pay off; most of you are going to get out of your parents’ house sooner than the press would have you believe.
The connection of poverty and downward mobility to personal choices is a message of hope, not hopelessness. It is only in the bizarre world of political correctness and mindless self-esteem that this is considered bad news. To some it is apparently more important that we not assign blame than it is to confront reality. For any given individual, there is a path — not a guarantee, but a path — to prosperity.