09/27/2007 - Last week over lunch, a friend in his 30s prodded me to explain how my generation, the boomers, had botched so many things. While not exactly conceding that we had, I said that the one thing none of us had anticipated was that America would cease to be a land of broadly shared prosperity. To be born, as I was, in mid-century was to have come of age in a nation in which the level of prosperity continued to rise and the circle of prosperity continued to widen. This was the great given of our youth. If the boomers embraced such causes as civil and social rights and environmentalism, it was partly because the existence and distribution of prosperity seemed to be settled questions.
It's no great achievement for a people to recognize that their nation's economy has tanked, but recognizing that their nation's class structure has slowly but fundamentally altered is a more challenging task. It's harder still for a people who are conditioned, as Americans are, not to see their nation in terms of class.
Which is why a poll released this month by the Pew Research Center reveals a transformation of Americans' sense of their country and themselves that is startling. Pew asked Americans if their country was divided between haves and have-nots. In 1988, when Gallup asked that question, 26 percent of respondents said yes, while 71 percent said no. In 2001, when Pew asked it, 44 percent said yes and 53 percent said no. But when Pew asked it again this summer, the number of Americans who agreed that we live in a nation divided into haves and have-nots had risen to 48 percent -- exactly the same as the number of Americans who disagreed.
Read the full article Rise of the Have-Nots on the Washington Post's Web site.