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America’s status needs rebuilding

Melvin B. Miller
America’s status needs rebuilding
“I’ll be glad when this election is over.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

Americans have just elected a new president, yet many citizens are skeptical about the nation’s future. The problems that have plagued the country for decades still persist. Racial conflicts and income disparities are at the forefront of issues adversely affecting the lives of countless citizens. Discrimination against blacks, Latinos and women places them at an economic disadvantage.

The country’s economic system is now quite complex, with so many moving parts, that few completely understand it. Nonetheless, it has become clear that the wealthiest Americans have been receiving an increasingly disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth. Five years ago the Occupy Movement was organized to generate public attention to the income disparity. Their slogan, “We’re the 99 percent,” was a protest of the rising wealth of those in the top 1 percent income bracket. There has been little improvement in the inequality of wealth in the past five years.

When the media report on poverty, they often use an urban slum or a rural shack for the setting, but a story in the Boston Globe indicates that many are struggling in plain sight to survive on inadequate income. In Massachusetts, 15,422 residents reported income of more than $1 million in 2014. This was 47 percent more than the number in 2010. Boston had the greatest number of millionaires, followed by Newton (1,284) which came second. Newton’s average household income is $167,013. However, a study found that one of every eight Newton households struggle to survive on annual income of less than $25,000.

Newton is still an affluent city, but the data suggests that many residents are victims of the declining middle class. Life is now difficult for those who once worked in factories and attained middle class status. Manufacturing jobs in America have been in a sharp decline since 1994. At that time there were 17 million such jobs, but by 2016 the number had fallen to only 12.5 million, a drop of 26 percent. To make matters worse, the purchasing power of wages has actually declined since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, so paychecks now buy less.

Debate over access to jobs will tend to incite racial antagonism. Bigoted white men believe that they are entitled to the first choice for jobs. There has been little acceptance of affirmative action to limit racial or gender discrimination in employment. The election of Barack Obama as president caused those obsessed with racial hostility to believe that they were losing control of the country that belongs to them. This fear is intensified by the U.S. Census Bureau projection that whites will actually become a minority population of the country by 2045.

The new president faces extraordinary challenges. Donald Trump constituents seem to believe that the manufacturing jobs that left can be returned to America. Most analysts believe that is unlikely to happen. Like the Tea Party supporters, Trump constituents will probably push hard to create government gridlock. The Bernie Sanders supporters who backed Hillary Clinton will expect implementation of the negotiated provisions in the Democratic Party Platform. This amounts to a modern vision of the economy to replace the old energy and factory model that the Trump supporters want resuscitated.

America has lost considerable international stature because of the acrimonious presidential campaign. A major responsibility of the new president is to rebuild the nation’s status as an international peacemaker. As the world’s greatest economic power, the United States has the responsibility of being a prominent and respected world leader. However, consideration and respect for others does not seem to be a quality that is highly valued by many Americans. Considerable conflict looms at a time that America should be ebullient with the future possibilities.