The Atlantic's Brownstein on the Lost Decade

NDN has long made two arguments 1) That the last 10 years were a lost decade for everyday Americans, the understanding of which is imperative to understanding the virulence of the great recession, and that 2) the inability of America's political leaders to create a plan that made globalization work for all Americans was the central source of volatility in the American electorate. The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein makes that case today

A Lost And Volatile Decade


by Ronald Brownstein

Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010

During the transition from the agricultural era to the Industrial Age in the late 19th century, America suffered through a generation of political instability and volatility.

The political hallmarks were narrow congressional majorities and rapid shifts in control; repeated one-term presidents; and divided government, with the parties routinely splitting the White House and Congress. This turmoil (which lasted from about 1876 to 1896) was rooted in the widespread sense among Americans that neither party had convincing answers to the enormous challenges created by the shift from farm to factory.

Based on last week's release of the annual Census Bureau report on income and poverty, it appears that the U.S. is experiencing something similar again, as Americans uneasily navigate a globalized, information-based economy. Across a wide range of economic measures, the bureau report demonstrated, the past 10 years have been an utterly lost decade for many, if not most, Americans. And that helps explain why the U.S. continues to careen through so many sharp political reversals.

From 2000 through 2009, the Census Bureau found, the median income (measured in inflation-adjusted dollars) declined by 5 percent for white families, 8 percent for Hispanic families, and more than 11 percent for African-American families. That's almost unimaginable over an entire decade. From 1991 through 2000 (again in inflation-adjusted dollars) it had risen by 13 percent for whites, 19 percent for Hispanics, and 28 percent for African-Americans.

Similarly, the total number of Americans in poverty increased by nearly 12 million in the last decade, more than obliterating the 4.1 million reduction during the 1990s. Especially troubling is that the number of poor children jumped by 3.9 million -- again, more than erasing the 2.8 million decline during the 1990s.

The findings on access to health insurance tell the same story. During the 1990s, the share of Americans without health insurance fell slightly from 14.1 percent to 13.7 percent; in the following decade, it has spiked to 16.7 percent. More than one-fifth of the working-age population (people ages 18 to 64) are now uninsured, also up steadily since 2000. The number of Americans obtaining health insurance at work during the 1990s increased by nearly 30 million; in the last decade, that number fell by nearly 10 million. (The share of Americans receiving coverage through work declined every year of George W. Bush's presidency.)

The Great Recession has vastly compounded these problems. But they were all worsening before the economy collapsed: The median income was lower, and the poverty rate and the number of uninsured were already higher in 2007 than in 2000.

Read Brownstein's whole piece here.