Civil Unrest Coming to America

08/13/2013 09:45

by Jeff D. Opdyke

today's editor
Ask yourself this: What does it mean to be middle class in America?

It’s quite the existential question gnawing at our country’s collective soul today. The middle class, once the epitome of American life, the dream to which therest of the world once aspired, is such an increasingly rare species in modern America that President Obama is now running around telling the nation that he will dedicate the rest of his term to revitalizing it. (Never mind that the pro-union, regulatory-heavy and wealth-redistributive policies he supports are precisely the wrong prescription.)



Still, his newfound concern cuts to the heart of my original question: What does it really mean to be middle class in America?

A house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city? Sure. Never sending your kids to bed hungry? That’s solid. A two-week vacation every summer? The freedom to eat out at a restaurant on a regular basis? Owning your own car? We’ll throw all of those onto the pile, too. They’re all byproducts of a middle-class life.

But they share one, necessary commonality: a job. And jobs are our Achilles heel. They’re the reason the American economy is incapable of living up to its potential. They’re the reason a record number of Americans – 48 million, one in every six of us – subsist on welfare. And, I am willing to wager, they’re the reason that European-style unrest is headed for American shores.

London, August 2011: Youth rampage in the U.K. capital. The post-riot analysis finds that the largest concentration of hellions is unemployed and disaffected. Greece and Spain (various times over the last few years): Youth rampage through local cities. The post-crisis analysis finds that with youth unemployment rates above 55% in both those countries, young people without jobs are the thorniest of the rabble-rousers. Stockholm, May 2013: Youth rampage through the otherwise calm Nordic city every night for nearly a week. The post-crisis analysis finds that unemployed young people were violently expressing their dissatisfaction with their inability to earn a living and the state’s inability to alter that situation.

No one wants to hear that I think that sort of violent unrest – let’s call it what is: rioting – is headed to American cities. Most of the folks in my circle of friends would vehemently disagree with my analysis. And since they’re all fairly normal, average people, I have to imagine their disbelief reflects the thinking across the country as a whole.

But “American exceptionalism” does not cross into human biology. People are people no matter the national seal stamped on their passport cover. And if the European youth riot for lack of jobs, why would American youth not? Remember, please, that we’re talking about Europe here – Western nations all, and some of the most enlightened and progressive cities around.

New York City, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles … they’re absolutely no different than London and Stockholm. Europe as a whole reports youth unemployment at 24%. America’s unemployment today has climbed above 16%. Gallup, the polling organization, noted last week that fewer and fewer young adults have full-time jobs. Yesterday, meanwhile, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly 22 million adults (aged 18 to 31) still live at home with Mom and Dad, the highest share of the population since at least the 1970s, and largely a function of a jobs market in America that finds no place for them.

Aside from retarding the economy and creating social pressures that routinely explode into violent confrontation with governments, this situation threatens to leave what some researchers label a “wage scar” – a financial wound that follows a person deep into middle-age, when incomes are not where they otherwise would have been had the economy allowed that person to follow a more-normal job trajectory. In essence, America will continue to hurt for decades, even after this problem is alleviated – assuming it is alleviated, and there are many reasons to think it won’t be.

The American Dream Has Disappeared

These statistics point to a reality in America that is hidden in plain view: We live in a deeply bifurcated country. There are, in effect, two Americas … and they won’t coexist peacefully for very long.

Most of us in the Sovereign world live in an America that, for the most part, still looks vaguely like the America we’ve always known. Opportunities still exist. We can afford our lives. And despite the myriad of personal and financial freedoms the Congress has revoked in the last decade or so, our America still sort of works, generally speaking.

But for a different set of Americans, this country has become a massive disappointment.

For them, few opportunities exist. The American dream is a Hollywood lie. They live on the margin, with 80% of them, in one recent national survey, struggling with joblessness and straddling a very fine line between poverty and barely keeping their heads above water. They are increasingly angry, agitated and depressed. They feel cheated.

That America has been short-changed by Washington’s ill-designed intrusions into corporate life (like, for instance, the knee-jerk and onerous Dodd-Frank legislation and Obamacare), D.C.’s regulatory blitzkrieg of the last 20-plus years, and the dramatic expansion of a welfare system that has removed the incentive to work. All have undermined job creation in America. The rise of technological innovation hasn’t helped, of course, but government’s clumsy and heavy-handed attempt to regulate too many aspects of free enterprise has stifled America’s entrepreneurial spirit. The “start-up job rate” in our country – the number of jobs in newly created American companies – has fallen during the Obama administration to 7.8 per 1,000 people, a 31% decline from the first President Bush.

Those missing jobs and the resulting impact on unemployed youth are the kindling that ignites fiery riots. When our unemployed youth reach the point where they perceive that they have little left to lose, well it will be London and Stockholm and Athens all over America. That’s a when, not an if.

The question I wonder is how America will react. Will the riots be enough to change the stupor in Washington and return our country to its proper path?

Or will the riots – and the resulting recognition that America is irreparably on the wrong path socially, politically and economically – give those of us with the means the reason to finally quit our homeland?