John F Kennedy said that a rising tide lifted all boats. That may no longer be the case. Most Americans are worse off now than they were in 2001 at the start of the last stage of economic expansion. And the median, as opposed to average, household income is only marginally higher than it was a generation ago. Is the American Dream fading?
Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the mini-classic Nickel and Dimed (2001), has brought out a collection of her most biting journalism and certainly thinks so. In language only she could deploy, Ehrenreich explains why the debate about whether the US is heading into recession is irrelevant to the large swathes of America that for years have endured flat or declining incomes.
For people living in the "real economy" as opposed to those who measure success by macroeconomic numbers, recession has never been far away. "With all this talk of how to stimulate it, you'd think that the economy is a giant sex organ," she writes. "If we have learnt anything in the last few years it is that the economy is no longer an effective measure of human well-being . . . If there is a real economy, then what in hell is the economy?" To pose the question differently, who nowadays best symbolizes the American economy?