The nation's official poverty rate was 15.1% last year, that equates to a record 46.2 million Americans living in poverty. With poverty levels rising for the past three years, average median U.S. income falling back to 1996 levels and income inequality at the highest levels since the Roaring 1920s, many Americans are starting to wonder: Is the American dream dying?
"The American Dream has been under assault for 30 years," says former President Bill Clinton.
I spoke with President Clinton on the eve of the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York Monday, where "jobs jobs, jobs" is one of the main topics of the conference.
While the development of a global economy and the information technology revolution caused upheaval for many workers, Mister Clinton says these trends were accelerated by "the adoption of two bad ideas":
Turning Stakeholders into Shareholders: About 35 years ago, the notion of what a corporation is changed, Clinton notes. Previously, corporations were "more or less" equally responsible to shareholders, employees, customers and the communities where they operated. "Now, shareholders are up here and everybody else is way down there."
Government as the Enemy: Clinton cites a "30-year anti-government rant," which is a uniquely American phenomenon, as another root cause of joblessness. "Instead of figuring out how the government and the private sector can work together, saying that 'government is the source of all problems and if we just choked it off, never another regulation, never another tax, never had another program all will be well.' There is not a single, solitary example on the planet where that's worked, including in America."
As at past CGI annual meetings, Clinton is hopeful this year's event will generate specific programs aimed to tackle joblessness around the world.
In lesser-developed countries, just "modest investments" in agriculture can generate "enormous" income for citizens, and help very poor countries start feeding themselves again, he says.
In the developed world, Clinton says an "enormous numbers of jobs" can be created by renewed commitments to energy efficiency. "The U.S. is about twice as energy efficient as we were back in the first oil embargo in the 1970s but more than twice as inefficient as our largest competitors," he says. "We could create 1 million jobs here if we had a systematic way to finance building retrofits everywhere."
Stay tuned for additional coverage from CGI, including Clinton's advice to President Obama about how to spur job growth in America today.