American Exceptionalism Is A Myth

We rank poorly in many important areas compared to the rest of the developed world

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Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

There was a time when hard work and getting an education was a very good indicator of upward mobility, but children born in the US in the 1980s and afterward have only a 50/50 chance of doing better than their parents did economically. Our middle class has shrunk significantly from the 1970s, although it has leveled out some in recent years.

The shrinking of America’s middle class may have finally ground to a halt. Just over half (52%) of American adults lived in middle-class households in 2016, up slightly from 51% in 2011, but down from 54% in 2001 and 61% in 1971, according to recent data released by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

The percentage of people in lower- and upper-income households has, meanwhile, crept higher over the same period. “While the size of the nation’s middle class remained relatively stable, financial gains for middle-income Americans during this period were modest compared with those of higher-income households,” Pew senior researcher Rakesh Kochhar wrote. One World Media

Take a look at recent assessments of where the US ranks in terms of any number of important metrics and you’ll see that as a nation we are in bad shape in many areas, including health care, education, and hunger. Americans also are over-worked and don’t get much leave time compared to the rest of the industrialized world.

Although the U.S. has the most expensive health care system in the world, the nation ranks lowest in terms of “efficiency, equity and outcomes,” according to the report. One of the most piercing revelations is that the high rate of expenditure for insurance is not commensurate to the satisfaction of patients or quality of service. High out-of-pocket costs and gaps in coverage “undermine efforts in the U.S. to improve care coordination,” the report summarized. Time

NPR and ProPublica teamed up for a six-month long investigation on maternal mortality in the U.S. Among our key findings:

  • More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising. (emphasis mine)
  • There’s a hodgepodge of hospital protocols for dealing with potentially fatal complications, allowing for treatable complications to become lethal.
  • Hospitals — including those with intensive care units for newborns — can be woefully unprepared for a maternal emergency.
  • Federal and state funding show only 6 percent of block grants for “maternal and child health” actually go to the health of mothers.
  • In the U.S, some doctors entering the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine were able to complete that training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.

Facts about poverty and hunger in America

Even in the world’s greatest food-producing nation, children and adults face poverty and hunger in every county across America.

  • 40 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children (1 in 6).
  • A household that is food insecure has limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life.
  • Children are more likely to face food insecurity than any other group in the United States.

Nearly one in every six seniors in America faces the threat of hunger and not being properly nourished. This applies to those who aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from and those who don’t have access to the healthiest possible food options. The issue is severe enough that the AARP reports that seniors face a healthcare bill of more than $130 billion every year due to medical issues stemming from senior hunger.

“The U.S. education system is mediocre compared to the rest of the world, according to an international ranking of OECD countries.”

Americans work way more than the rest of the developed world, in both hours per week and fewer days of vacation. This has increased productivity, but it’s not the workers themselves who benefit. “One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.”

“Zero industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.”

You can’t address issues that you won’t acknowledge even exist. Continuing to talk about American exceptionalism and the stability of our economy in the face of pervasive hunger and overwork, as well as shoddy health care and non-existent parental leave is counter-productive to being able to improve those areas that deeply affect the lives of everyday Americans. And just how stable is our economy truly?

While the labor market has recovered significantly and employment has returned to pre-crisis levels, there is still widespread debate regarding the health of the U.S. economy. In addition, even though the worst effects of the recession are now fading, the economy still faces a variety of significant challenges going forward. Deteriorating infrastructure, wage stagnation, rising income inequality, elevated pension and medical costs, as well as large current account and government budget deficits, are all issues facing the US economy. Focus Economics

In other words, we’ve got a lot of work to do. I believe that the most patriotic thing that a person can do is to refuse to turn a blind eye to our country’s shortcomings and instead focus on the ways that we can call for and work towards a better life for all Americans. Saying that we are exceptional without having the goods to actually back that up is just empty nationalism.

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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