I would like to preface this by saying that I wrote this as a research paper a couple years ago. I was rereading it and wanted to share it. Enjoy!
Do you remember in elementary school when you learned about the rags to riches stories of Americans who had little more than a dream? Unfortunately, that just will not suffice in the modern day Untied States. The American Dream as it was first coined was, “(the) dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It was not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position" (Library of Congress). However, since 1931—when this was published—both American society and their definition of the American Dream have changed dramatically. We have seen a second World War, a Cold War, recessions and thriving economies alike. With such major world and domestic events, changes in the profile of America, and a general improvement in the average standard of living, the typical American’s idea of the American Dream has been flipped on its head, and it will continue to evolve and change day by day because as an author who has written and thought deeply about the American Dream wrote, “We are defined not only by what we aspire to but by what we are. And we are a mix of things and a mix of dreams” (Schudson). Schudson’s interpretation of the American Dream reflects the fact that the it isn't just about the future. It is an all-inclusive tenet of our society of past, present, and future. The good, bad, and ugly are all a part of what the American Dream is because those people that did the good, bad, and ugly shared the same American Dream with you, with us today. That’s why everyone is in their own stage of the dream. If your parents are first generation Americans, they likely didn’t have a lot of money when they came to America, so you might be the first one in your family to attend college and therefore would have a different dream than someone who is the third generation to attend college. Today there are more variables effecting one’s personal definition of the American Dream than ever before, but regardless of what the dream is specifically, it is rooted in “‘the great national suggestion’ (171) that anyone, with hard work according to the rules, has a reasonable prospect of succeeding in life” (Schudson) and attaining a middle class lifestyle. Unfortunately, today we are seeing the middle class shrink before our eyes as the jobs typically held by those in the middle class, are either being replaced by technology or outsourced overseas to cheaper labor in other countries, leading many seeking the middle class lifestyle to either settle for jobs that don’t pay quite as well as their old one or attempt to move up the social ladder by becoming doctors, lawyers, managers, etc. I believe that Americans are slowly losing faith in the American Dream, and their concerns are easily justifiable considering how corporate greed, in addition to outsourcing of quality jobs, is shrinking the middle class and rendering the American Dream increasingly unattainable.
The primary reason that the American Dream is slipping out of our grasp is because of corporate greed that has become a trend amongst American companies. Since the 1970s there has been, “a continuing shift away from manufacturing toward the service sector and with the introduction of new flexible work arrangements, the experiences and circumstances of working Americans have been significantly altered” (Starks) all in the name of increasing revenues and minimizing costs, which has led to increasingly less jobs available in America. Instead, employers are finding ways to get jobs done more efficiently and cost effectively, which unfortunately isn’t always in the United States. The changes of experiences and circumstances reflect the increasing disbelief in the American Dream of the workers and the breaking and remaking of the social contract by companies. According to Murray Weidenbaum, an economist who was the chairman of Ronald Reagan’s first Council of Economic Advisors, and his analysis of the evolution of the social contract between employee and employer, he states that in the old social contract, “Employees, by and large, understood that they would have to provide satisfactory attendance on the job. They also would have to demonstrate an acceptable level of effort as well as loyalty to the organization. Employers, in turn, were expected to provide "fair" pay and fringe benefits, and advancement based on seniority and merit. And, to a greater or lesser degree, they were expected to provide job security” (Weidenbaum). My late grandfather, for example, started working in the steel mill at a young age, and since he showed loyalty to the steel company and worked there his whole life, the company gave him pay raises and easier hours as he reached seniority. However Weidenbaum as well as Starks has seen a shift away from that old social contract because of corporate downsizing and outsourcing of jobs in efforts to increase efficiency and maximize profits. Corporate downsizing has become a form of reorganizing businesses as, in recent decades, the economy has globalized and shifted away from manufacturing towards the service industry (Starks). Had my grandfather worked today at the steel mill, there is a much greater chance that the mill would lay him off as the market shifted towards being global and service-centered. As a result of the shift described by Starks, either directly or indirectly, most Americans have seen or experienced the loss of a job that either a close friend or they themselves thought would carry them through to retirement. Consequently, Americans started to question whether the American Dream is still attainable through the traditional means of hard work and loyalty to a company. In many respects Americans are correct, because as Weidenbaum argues, “Management wants to reduce employee turnover and increase commitment, but it is difficult to do so while attempting to ‘cut all the fat’ and asking for more output form each employee”. In modern day America, businesses are looking for partnerships and/or workers to do a specific task or project, but once they are done with that project, the businesses no longer have any use for them which is leading to the high turnover rate and temporary employment.
However, corporate downsizing and reorganizing has not been the sole reason for the deterioration of the old social contract. The other cause for concern is the growing amount of outsourcing of jobs both in the service and goods industries. If you’re unfamiliar with outsourcing it, “generally refers to the procuring of material inputs or services by a firm from outside the firm. It can be domestic or international” (Amiti et. al), and many of the jobs being outsourced are being lost overseas to countries in which companies can get away with paying workers less than in America. These opportunities were not available to businesses just thirty years ago because recent technology has improved leaps and bounds to the point where significantly more jobs can now either be done with computers or done remotely at a location apart from the building in which the business is located, so in the spirit of American’s increasing preoccupation with material wealth, businesses have not hesitated to outsource jobs that can be completed cheaply and efficiently compared to the means in which the task was originally done. For instance, Nike makes their shoes in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam because these are countries in which protective labor laws are poorly enforced and cheap labor is abundant. Similarly to how the Industrial Revolution of the mid-nineteenth century revolutionized the way business was done, this technological revolution of sorts has eaten up jobs that previously required everyone in the same location to complete and deposited them in countries where the job can be done inexpensively.
This outsourcing, you could argue, will never reach you because your job is too specialized or requires too much training. However, this is sadly not the truth. The effects of outsourcing have hit both locally and nationally. “Outsourcing isn’t something I have to worry about” one might say and is likely something Rich Nemeth believed when he took an information technology (IT) job at H.J. Heinz, thinking he would work there for thirty-plus years until retirement, but after not even five years at Heinz, he along with several of his coworkers were brought together and told that their jobs were going to be moved to India. It was then that, “Nemeth learned first-hand that the old days of lifelong job security are gone. ‘The months that led up to the outsourcing and dealing with this and the wondering if and all that, it was just unbearable,’ says Nemeth. ‘Physically, mentally, at home. I actually went to the doctor and said “I need something or else I'm going to lose it here,” you know?’” (American Public Media). Something similar happened to Cindy Cromie, a transcriptionist at UPMC Hamot in Erie, when she, along with 130 of her coworkers were told that their jobs would soon be outsourced to Nuance Communications in Burlington, Massachusetts. They were given the opportunity to keep their job for Nuance, but in the process they lost severance, retirement, and all that decided to stay with Nuance saw a pay cut of nearly sixty percent, decreasing some of their pay to barely minimum wage (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). These workers, or anyone affected by outsourcing, can point their finger at the heads of large corporations and blame them for their corporate greed—greed because in 2012, CEOs of S&P 500 Index companies, made 354 times as much as their hourly wage employees (AFL-CLIO). To those finger-pointers, I challenge them to look more closely at the situation because when they do, they will see that corporate greed isn’t really limited to big businesses and corporations. Our government, despite passing right to work laws and legislation that protects American jobs from being lost overseas and victimized by outsourcing, has also subscribed to the practice of outsourcing in the name of saving a couple million dollars. This is what the Californian government did when they decided to opt for saving 400 million dollars by choosing the Chinese company over the American, Oregon Iron, to rebuild San Fransisco’s Bay Bridge that had been damaged by earthquakes and is one of the busiest toll bridges in America. That 400 million dollar savings is an easy way for the politicians to win votes because they can say they saved their state that money, but in actuality, ”the taxes those workers would have paid — from California income tax to Social Security and unemployment taxes. It did not take into account the multiplier effect, all the related benefits derived across the economy from the daily purchases made by people with jobs. It did not count all the state and local taxes that employed workers pay for schools and highways. Nor did it take into account all the tax revenue that California and local governments had to expend for unemployment, health care and other costs run up by people who have no jobs. In short, what may look like a ‘savings' is anything but” (Barlett and Steele). It is this short-sightedness and our society’s preoccupation with immediate satisfaction that are pulling the American Dream and a middle class lifestyle out of our grasp. With businesses and government alike making decisions that are more beneficial to their pockets or their cause, they are upsetting the social balance that has existed peacefully—more or less—prior to the shifting of Americans away from middle class and towards either the rich end of the spectrum or the poor.
The middle class—as I previously mentioned—is shrinking, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to for people to attain a middle class lifestyle because America’s once socially mobile class system is becoming increasingly tight and immobile. Although some studies may have data that contradicts my claim, I would like to draw attention to the fact that, “Being a part of the middle class, for this population, is simultaneously an ‘objective’ status determined by socioeconomic position as well as a subjunctive identity that may or may not be congruent with ‘objective' socioeconomic facts. People from all sectors claim a ‘middle-class’ identity, but understand it in many different ways” (Falls). Therefore by simply asking people questions as a part of a study, it remains difficult to record accurate information and form educated hypotheses on the subject. I then consulted a New York Times article for a concrete definition of middle class and found that, “The middle class (is) defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year” (Parlapiano, Gebeloff, and Carter), so with that being said, the article also found that since the Census Bureau began collecting income information in 1967 to 2013, the percentage of American households making the middle class income bracket has fallen from fifty-three to forty-three percent—that’s ten percent over forty-five years. One example of how corporate and government greed, outsourcing, and the redefining of the social contract has led to the slipping away of the American Dream is the outsourcing of IT jobs at H.J. Heinz to India that affected Rich Nemeth and his coworkers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, those who had computer or information jobs made between 48,900 and 91,000 dollars a year, which according to the New York Times article I previously mentioned constitutes middle class jobs. I’m not saying that the outsourcing of IT jobs—or jobs in general—is either the sole reason that social mobility in America is decreasing or that it is the reason that the American Dream of a middle class lifestyle is slipping away. “Social mobility”, or the ability to achieve a different social class than the one you are born into, according to a study by Emily Beller and Michael Hout, “is high if the opportunity structure is open—that is, if the barriers and advantages associated with a person’s background are few…But slow growth reduces social mobility, as does a closed opportunity structure”, and I believe these claims to be true because unfortunately, that’s exactly what they found in their study. In a perfectly mobile society, no matter in which of the four quartiles of income one was born into, that person would have a twenty-five percent chance of ending up in any one of the four quartiles, but what they found is that if the dad’s income was in the first or fourth quartile—the extremes of high and low—the son had a forty-two and forty percent chance, respectively, of remaining in that quartile. When they examined wealth mobility from 1979-2000, the numbers were even more favorable to social immobility (Beller and Hout). These trends, interestingly enough, correspond with the upheaval of the old social contract between employer and employee and the emergence of a global economy. With the outsourcing of middle class jobs like the IT jobs at H.J. Heinz, the transcriptionists at UPMC Hamot, or even the construction jobs for the new Bay Bridge, the opportunity structure in America is becoming increasingly stiff and difficult to maneuver, thus the American Dream has been slowly slipping away from Americans.
In short, corporate greed has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until the relatively recent development of a global economy that this greed became a problem. With the development of technology, the ability to outsource middle class jobs has been exploited by companies looking to save money, and because outsourcing has become more of a problem, the opportunity structure in America is decreasing. The less opportunity for jobs available to Americans, the less socially mobile our society will become, and the social immobility has led to income extremes where an increasing number of people earn incomes that are either classified as rich or poor. This current situation exemplifies why the American Dream is slipping away from a large portion of Americans—the social immobility, caused by corporate greed and outsourcing has made the middle class lifestyle epitomized by the Dream decreasingly attainable.