Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The widening gap

You can't turn on the radio, TV or open a newspaper without someone talking about a gap*--and I don't mean the store where teen-agers shop. There's a poverty gap, a gender gap, a technology gap, a health care gap, yada, yada. Three and a half years ago I wrote down my reasons for the widening gap between the rich and the poor (this is actually a fabrication because people are retiring and by plan and choice reducing their household income, but let's imagine there is a gap). Let's call it The Easy Gap.
    1. Easy credit cards: We got our first credit card in the late 60s--I think it was a "Shopper’s Charge." We now have one department store credit card and one bank card--we’ve never carried a balance. Since the late 80s and into the 90s, many new households have never known what it was to live on their earned income. 2. Easy divorce: Christians now have the same divorce rate as anyone else in the culture. When we married 48 years ago, regular religious observance offered families some protection. No fault divorce particularly hurt women and children, pushing them economically into competition with two income families. 3. Easy sex: Casual one-night stands were glorified in the movies of the 70s and 80s. Although adultery and fornication had long been a theme in literature, drama and movies, casual sex and living together before marriage became the gold standard of relationships by the 80s, even though it’s been proven that it increases the divorce rate. Then easy sex came into the living rooms via TV so that even young children think who’s spending the night is no more important than what toothpaste mom buys. Women having and raising babies alone is the biggest cause of growing poverty and the gap that liberals worry about. 4. Easy birth control and abortion: The millions of Americans that might have sprung from the loins of some of our best and brightest have been denied life itself, and thus their slots in the pie chart has been taken by poor, uneducated immigrants. Obviously this creates a huge gap between the middle class and the poor, who instead of having a solid footing as those aborted citizens might have had, flood across our borders or arrive as refugees with nothing. 5. Easy technology and gadgets: Time wasted on I-pods and text messaging and vegging out in front of bad movies on DVDs has certainly absorbed billions of hours that could have been invested in networking, education or advancing up the career ladder. Cable and cell phone monthly costs easily equal what we spent on a mortgage 30 years ago. 6. Easy bankruptcy: Load up the credit cards with consumer spending, mortgage your future, then make the rest of us pay it off for you. It might have been Plan B 20 years ago, but is now Plan A. Interest only mortgages, leases for larger and more expensive vehicles, second mortgages--for a generation who thinks the future will be paid for by someone else, it’s a recipe for a growing gap. 7. Easy leisure: Thirty eight years ago (1970) few middle class families took vacations--if Dad had a week off (and most companies didn’t offer it) he spent it fixing the house. Sure it’s a huge industry and employs a lot of people, but we’re looking at the gap aren’t we? We’d probably been married 10 years before we took a family vacation (my parents never had one), and then it was at my mother’s farm for a week. Our daughter and her husband had been to Key West, Arruba and took a Mexican cruise in the first 5 years of their marriage. 8. Easy entertainment: This is related to leisure and technology, but today’s young families have difficulty being alone or quiet, it would seem. Even 30 years olds seem unable to walk around without head phones. They are spending their children’s future at movies, sporting events and theme parks. A visit to the library is most likely to pick up a movie, not a book. 9. Easy college loans: Instead of attending a state school, working during the summer or attending closer to home, many young people begin their real working lives with huge debt, a debt that takes years to pay off, assuming they don’t default. Loans were so easy in the 80s, that parents who could well afford to pay tuition had their children at the public trough. 10. Easy shopping: You can be a couch potato or a computer novice and never leave home to shop. Addiction is easy. Just call in with the credit card. See? And I haven’t even said a word about how much health care costs, or how the women’s movement changed our culture, public transportation or taxes. And while the government is tangentially involved in these areas, mostly it boils down to perfectly legal choices, choices which when they become ingrained in our way of life lead to poverty or slippage down by a quintile for the next generation.
According to a google search: health care gap = 15,700; gender gap = 842,000; technology gap = 166,000; obesity gap = 417; poverty gap = 113,000.

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