Five Societal Trends That Signal Our Nation's Decline

America has a 51st state and it is called Anxiety.

This state is evident when you read these findings from an August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll:

  • 66% of adults do not feel confident that life for their children’s generation will be better than it has been for them.
  • 65% think America is in a state of decline.

OK, so you get the picture that America’s forecast is cloudy with a chance of collapse.

Here are five societal trends that will further exacerbate the pessimism of two-thirds of American adults who believe our nation’s future is bleak:

  • National poverty is higher now than in all 51 years of record keeping.
  • There is an increasing number of high school drop-outs.
  • The American workforce is steadily becoming less educated.
  • Four of out of every ten births in America are to unmarried women.
  • Only 53% of Americans pay federal income taxes.

Each of these five trends taken separately could be viewed as a serious problem but not necessarily a signal of national decline.

However, when these problems are considered collectively with their cause and effect and interrelationships, it becomes apparent why we are facing a society-transforming tsunami that our nation as a free market democracy is nearly powerless to stop --- no matter how many millions of dollars our government throws at these problems.

These trends are listed in no particular order, for they are all equally distressing.

1. America is getting poorer. One in five children and one in seven residents of America are living in poverty.

Here are the cold hard facts according to a September 2010 Census Bureau report:

  • 43.6 million people in America are living in poverty.
  • That translates into 14.3% of the total population  (up from 13.2 % in 2008).
  • Of that 43.6 million living in poverty, 20.7% are children (up from 19% in 2008).

In the 51 years since poverty records have been kept we now have the largest number of residents living in poverty. Even worse, since poverty begets poverty, expect these numbers to increase over the coming decades.

With government resources and private organizations stretched to the max, their combined ability to deal with persistent and growing poverty will pale in comparison to the needs of 14.3% of the population living below the poverty line, which is defined as $21,954 for a family of four.

When you consider the negative long-term effects of one out of every five children in America being raised in poverty, it is almost incomprehensible.

Sociologists will tell you growing up in a culture of poverty usually translates into a lifetime of increased health problems, inferior education, fewer employment opportunities, more exposure to violent crime with higher rates of incarceration, and, worst of all, the perpetuation of the poverty cycle to the next generation.

An increasing number of high school drop-outs.

California is known as a bellwether state, where trends begin, take root, and then move east. If that holds true our nation’s decline will be further accelerated, for California has the highest percentage of high school drop-outs in its labor force at 16%.

According to this same 2008 data the percentage of high school drop-outs working in the national labor force is 10.2%.

That 10.2% sounds almost acceptable when you consider a 2009 New York Times article stating the graduation rate in the nation's 50 largest cities was 53% compared with 71% in the suburbs. This means almost half of all urban students are dropping out of high school. Other reports say fewer than 8 out of 10 students graduate from high school and there is one drop-out every 26 seconds.

All these numbers are indicative of a huge national crisis -- for dropping out of high school has detrimental effects on society, usually leading to a lifetime of poverty with all the unfortunate consequences mentioned earlier.

The American workforce is steadily becoming less educated.

The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25-35 year olds with college degrees.

But according to the College Board we have now slipped to 11th among 38 developed nations:

Recent international comparisons contain alarming news for Americans: The United States, which led the world in high school completion rates throughout the 20th century, ranked just 21st out of 27 advanced economies by 2005. And our college completion rates have dropped dramatically — from number two in the world for younger workers (age 25-34) to number 11. The United States is on the verge of losing the great global educational competitive edge it has long enjoyed.

An educated labor force is imperative if our nation is to maintain its super-power status. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround it looks as if the seeds of our educational and economic decline have already been planted.