7/20/2010 4:03:00 PM Are Baby Boomers average Americans?
William J. Clinton
If you grew up somewhere in the neighborhood of 1955-1975, you probably considered yourself an “average American.” Sadly, we don’t hear that term today…which may be a reflection on the impact we’ve made on society. How?
This “average American” researched back to 1955. I viewed both written surveys and training films from that time. Here’s what I learned:
1. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population had a family income of $3-$6,000.
2. Another 30% had an income of $6-$10,000. That’s an astounding 70% of Americans who saw themselves in the middle to upper-middle class category.
3. Upper income folks – those who earned over $10,000 a year – were applauded as those business owners or leaders who created new opportunities for the others.
4. Another impressive statistic: about 85% of the total national income went to 93% of families…an equitable distribution of wealth.
What? Are these statistics making you sleepy? Well, wake up and keep reading, because the prose gets better now.
Without boring you with more statistics, it appears that no matter where we Boomers fell on the income scale, the vast percentage of us considered ourselves to be “middle class.” And in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we were probably right.
What does this mean?
If we considered ourselves to be middle class, let me make two assumptions: (1) we felt relatively secure, and could concentrate on other things rather than mere survival, and (2) we assumed that if we got an education (including college training) and worked hard, we could secure an even better future.
What’s more, most of our role models said they came from middle class or modest backgrounds. For example:
a. America’s President during the 1950’s, Dwight Eisenhower, came from a large family of modest means in Abilene, Kansas.
b. His Vice-President, Richard Nixon, was the son of a California grocer.
c. Most of America’s first astronauts were young military pilots who had received college educations.
d. Most of baseball’s and football’s professional heroes claimed to come from working class families.
e. Virtually all the situation comedies of the 1950’s and 1960’s depicted middle class families. (Examples: Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, Dobie Gillis, The Dick Van Dyke Show.)
The notable exception to this was wealthy John F. Kennedy, the Democratic President elected in 1960 who championed civil rights, the Peace Corps, and other initiatives benefiting less-fortunate people. And he used his power and position to improve the lives of struggling Americans.
What did we learn?
1. We came of age in simpler and more hopeful times. Yes, we faced atomic threats, but most were short-lived and vague.
2. Our generation’s own children – who range in age from teens to early 30’s – have grown up in a far more dangerous time, and have witnessed huge disparity politically. They’ve witnessed horrible terrorist acts, and have ridden an economic roller coaster in recent years.
3. Traditional manufacturing and distribution jobs have been “outsourced” to other countries in order to save a few dollars. But at what eventual cost?
4. And, back in our days (that sounds old, doesn’t it?), the Congressional and executive branches seemed to work more closely together.
5. Finally, you don’t hear folks talk much today about how much fun it is to be “middle class.”
Why? Maybe we just don’t feel middle class – or united -- any more.