For Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith, the American Dream depends upon the prosperity of middle class. Ray Suarez talks to Smith about his latest book, “Who Stole the American Dream?” for more on what needs to change to restore the American Dream, economically, politically and culturally.
RAY SUAREZ: The story you tell, one of the striking parts of it is that who knew in the early to mid-’70s that we’d some day look back on that as the good old days…
HEDRICK SMITH: Right.
RAY SUAREZ: .. as a time when working people were making pretty good livings?
HEDRICK SMITH: Well, they were living the American dream. They had pretty steady jobs. They had rising pay.
They had benefits, health care; 85 percent of the people who worked for companies of over 100 employees had health care, had retirement payments, a monthly check until you died on top of your Social Security, could afford to buy a home, pay off that mortgage over 30 years, and hope that your kids would do better.
That’s a big chunk for an awful lot of people.
It made America the envy of the world. It let Richard Nixon go to Moscow and tell Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, we have a classless society.
RAY SUAREZ: That is also — the people living that dream are also numerically the largest part of the United States.
HEDRICK SMITH: Sure.
RAY SUAREZ: How did they become so politically weak?
HEDRICK SMITH: Well, they were very strong back then.
As you know, Ray, the environmental movement was strong, put pressure on Washington.
The labor movement was strong, put pressure on General Motors and General Electric and U.S. Steel and so forth.
The civil rights movement put pressure on Washington to open up the American Dream to blacks and other minorities.
Part of what happened to them was, it was so successful. But part of what happened to them was, there was a power shift. There was a tremendous change of power in Washington. And that had a big effect on the ability of middle-class Americans to achieve the American dream.
And the other thing that happened is what I call wedge economics, the splitting of the American middle class off from the gains of the national economy, so that today you can see the economy improving bit by bit, but middle-class people aren’t doing that much better.
People at the top are doing real well. Corporations are reporting profits, but the people in the middle aren’t doing that well.
Back in the old days, back in the heyday of the middle class, everybody shared in that prosperity. Today, everybody doesn’t share in that prosperity. And that’s why so many people feel so much pain.
- IN THE MAIL: From Hedrick Smith, Who Stole the American Dream? … (pjmedia.com)
- Hedrick Smith Answers Your Questions (pbs.org)
- Who Stole the American Dream? (boiseweekly.com)
- Who Stole The American Dream? (radioalice.cbslocal.com)
- Day by Day (wnyc.org)
- Book Review: Who stole the American Dream? (usatoday.com)
- Hedrick Smith: Leaving the New York Times (brookings.edu)
- Role of WaMu figures prominently (seattletimes.com)
- Good Old Hedrick (laf.ee)
- How the middle class lost its place in the economy (seattletimes.com)