A demonstrator on Wall Street holds a sign announcing the end of the American Dream. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
Writing Contest Finalist
We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editor
It was the 1970s, and Michael Skladany was spending his summers working at a steel mill on the outskirts of Cleveland. It was backbreaking work. But the son of blue-collar, working class parents knew that it would pay for his college education.
Forty years later, Dr. Skladany told his story to his introductory sociology class. And all 100 students laughed.
We laughed because it was preposterous to imagine saving up for an entire year’s worth of tuition, plus housing, with a summer job. We laughed because steel mills in Cleveland have been laying off thousands of workers, not hiring them. And we laughed, perhaps ruefully, because many of us attending our public university in Ohio have to work two or three jobs in addition to taking a full course load during the year.
What happened between the 1970s and now that could have caused such a drastic difference? The answer lies in a political, economic and social trend that has put the United States on track to the worst economic inequality since the Gilded Age: neoliberalism.
“The main achievement of neoliberalism has been to redistribute, rather than regenerate, wealth and income,” writes David Harvey in his book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism. That school of thought has steadily worked its way through the cracks and crevices of U.S. public policy since the 1970s. It has eliminated the social safety net and replaced it with tax cuts for the rich, privatization of public institutions and subsidies for corporations, thereby creating a class of the unimaginably wealthy. CEO-to-worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950. The earnings of the top one percent of U.S. citizens have tripled since 1979, while wages for the middle class have stagnated.