Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1962, America was a far different place from what it is today. President John Kennedy was presiding over Camelot, and despite fouling up the invasion of Cuba, his approval rating hovered at around 80 percent. Unemployment was 5.2 percent with the average family income at $6,000 a year.
Most Americans did not have much money but made do. Millions bought Elvis Presley’s record “Return to Sender” and went to see “Lawrence of Arabia” in movie theaters. At home, “Wagon Train” was the top TV show.
Years later, the film “American Graffiti” featured the ad campaign “Where were you in ’62?” Well, I was on Long Island, hanging around. During the day, we swam at the Levittown pool and played stickball in the street, and in August, my father took us to a lake in Vermont. Also, we went to Jones Beach and baked in the sun without block while secondhand cigarette smoke engulfed us on the blanket.
My folks had little disposable income, certainly not enough for air conditioning or a color television set. But again, there was little whining in my working-class neighborhood. We had fun with what was available. Most everybody worked. Nobody was on welfare.
In fact, just 6 percent of Americans received welfare payments in 1962. Now that number is 35 percent. More than 100 million of us are getting money from the government, and that does not count Social Security and Medicare, programs workers pay into. This is a profound change in the American tradition.
Also, we now have close to nine million workers collecting federal disability checks. In 2001, that number was about five million. Here’s my question: Is the workplace that much more hazardous than it was 11 years ago? Is our health that much worse?
The answer is no. What we are seeing is the rise of the Nanny State.
Self-reliance and ambition made the United States the most powerful nation on Earth. But that ethic is now eroding fast. Instead, many Americans are looking to game the system, and the philosophy of “where’s mine” has taken deep root. About half of American workers pay no federal income tax, leaving the burden to be shouldered by the achievers. As The Edward Winter Group once sang: “Come on and take a free ride. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!”
Presiding over and joyously encouraging this societal shift is the purveyor of social justice President Barack Obama. His entire campaign is now built around making the rich “pay their fair share.” And where will that money go? To those in need, of course. And those legions are growing larger every single day.
Fair-minded people do not begrudge a safety net for Americans who, through no fault of their own, need help. A compassionate society provides for those battered by life. But what is happening in this country is far beyond a helping hand. We are creating a dual society. In one corner: Americans who work hard to succeed. In the other corner: folks who want what you have.
And the second corner is the growth industry.