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.
California is a sad example of the consequences of a workforce becoming less educated.
In 1970 California ranked seventh among all states in the high school completion rates of its workforce. By 2008 it had sunk to 50 out of 50 states. Could there possibly be a connection between California’s financial woes and this statistic?
Four out of every ten births in America are to unmarried women.
This is according to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control report covering the year 2007.
Expect this trend to continue, for births to unmarried mothers were up 26% over 2002.
Why do I consider this statistic one of the five societal trends of decline? The answer is in the CDC report:
Nonmarital births are at a higher risk of having adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality than are children born to married woman. Children born to single mothers typically have more limited social and financial resources.
Here is yet another trend feeding the poverty cycle with all its associated woes.
Moreover, because “adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and preterm birth” often lead to more childhood and long-term health issues with the “limited social and financial resources” of unmarried mothers, these health problems will inevitably fall on the public health care system.
Could there be a correlation between 4 out of 10 births to unmarried women and 1 in 5 children living in poverty? Perhaps some sociology graduate student just found a thesis topic.
Only 53 percent of Americans are paying federal income taxes.
So with our nation’s population getting poorer, an increase in the number of high school drop-outs, and higher educational attainment on the decline, there will naturally be a greater demand for government services of all kinds.
But who is left to pay for those services?
A little more than half of our taxpayers, 53%, picked up the tab this past April 15th for the remaining 47% who didn’t pay any federal income tax. According to USA Today:
The result is a tax system that exempts almost half the U.S. from paying for programs that benefit everyone, including national defense, public safety, infrastructure and education. It is a system in which the top 10% of earners — households making an average of $366,400 in 2006 — paid about 73% of the income taxes collected by the federal government.
The article goes on to say:
The bottom 40%, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax system, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.
We have a national tax system where the top 10% of earners are paying 73% of the federal income taxes, while the bottom 40% are making a profit. What a country!
No wonder so many of the world’s citizens want to come here and stay.
When you consider all five of these disturbing societal trends, it is apparent why the two-thirds of adults who think our nation is in decline will be visiting our 51st state of Anxiety more often.
I hope they like it, because they'll be retiring there.