Today's America
"It was the best of times and the worst of times"

Developed by: Daniel Kaeck
Date: June, 1997

The following is my assessment of the current "State of the Nation." This summary is based on a wide variety of literature and is not intended to be all inclusive. The important issue I would like you to address is: "If these facts are correct, what are the implications for our major social institutions such as the family, schools, religious organizations, government, etc. and how does this impact the milieu of child and adolescent development?" Are there any statements you would like to challenge. Are there additional facts that you believe ought to be incorporated into this summary?

  1. Ecology. Americans consume approximately one-third of the world's available resources yet comprise about 5% of the world population. Rain forests are nearly depleted to the point where world weather patterns are changed; the implications are almost incalculable. The ozone layer is damaged--rising skin cancer is only one of the resulting problems. Global warming is underway--beach erosion and reclining land mass are concomitants. Future famine as well as plague, are on the agenda.
  2. Economy. In my view, never have we enjoyed such apparent prosperity. The unemployment rate hovers around 5%; inflation is under control; the stock market is booming; consumer outlook is positive; trade agreements have become increasingly U.S. friendly. We still have a major imbalance in international trade (10 billion per month) which must be lowered. Taxes devoted to the social net for the handicapped, old and poor amounts to nearly 1/3 of each dollar (equivalent to what was devoted to military expenditures in the early 80's.) (Is this the Peace dividend?) In 1950, the productive to dependent citizen ratio in the U.S. was 17:1; today it is 3:1. Since welfare reform was enacted in 1996, the welfare rolls have been decreased by 25%. States in the forefront of the welfare-to-work innovation have found that within 6 months nearly 40% of those placed in jobs have lost them. Why? Even Habitat for Humanity is unsuccessful in terms of the clients served assuming loans and paying for the domiciles systematically. They are being carried by the organization and the latter has been reluctant to divulge the lack of success of their program. It appears to be another handout in the opinion of critics. The gap between the "haves" and "have nots" has never been greater and continues to grow. The information age and technology are driving an impermeable wedge between the educated or skilled and the underclass. African-American males are worse off today on a number of measures than they were in 1960. Of the U.S. poor, 40% are children. In contrast, there is apparent prosperity for most citizens in America, although we are said to suffer from "affluenza"--an existential illness that results from the pursuit of material gain. This may contribute to midlife crises and malaise.
  3. Family. The divorce rate for first marriages appears to be stabilized at about 50% while for 2nd marriages it is about 60%. These facts take on additional meaning in relation to data showing that individuals are initially marrying at older ages and those opting to remain single have increased significantly. Blended families appear not to work--the Brady Bunch is bunk. Today, over 70% of mothers of preschoolers use alternative childcare, i.e. are employed full- time. Fewer families have meals together; adults spend 6 hours shopping per week and only 40 minutes solely with their children. Reproduction rates across SES levels are a matter of great concern especially to those who favor the genetic view of human development. One- third of births in America is to teenagers, the bulk of whom are unmarried and poor. They typically do not avail themselves of prenatal care and when they do, it is usually quite late in the pregnancy. Dietary and other habits in underclass youth do not change as a result of pregnancy. Teen mothers make incompetent parents and the cycle of teen pregnancy and inadequate parenting is perpetuated. It becomes a breeding ground for school failure, oppositional behaviors, delinquency and drugs.
  4. Education. An elusive statistic appears to be high school dropout rates. For example, youth who move out of a district prior to graduation are difficult to track. However, the criticality of high school completion is revealed in the fact that in large urban areas, like Atlanta, the dropout rate is 40%. We've all heard that teachers blame parents for alleged decline in academic achievement while parents blame schools (politicians blame everyone). The decline in SAT scores may be over, but the decline in itself is a matter of concern and conflicting explanations. Has diversity resulted in weakened language skills, an eschewal of educational values, and/or prejudice against certain groups of children (unfair tests)? The nature of the children served also has changed over the decades. Children born in the mid 1950's and later were reared on television--more time with TV than in school rooms during their school years. Children reared from the mid-1970's on were far more likely to have been reared in a single-parent household than their predecessors. Today, about 40% of the children K-12 do not live with both biological parents. That means less supervision, less assistance with school-work, less guidance, and less parenting time. Inner city schools often exhibit an "under siege mentality" with enormous resources devoted to behavioral control, prevention of violence and maintaining order. A teaching position in such a secondary school has now achieved the ignominious distinction of being one of the top 5 most dangerous U.S. occupations according to experts. Has college grade inflation resulted in poorly trained teachers over the past 25 years? Is it fair to compare the achievement of students in Georgia with those of states where more money is spent on schools?
  5. Health. Approximately 14% of the GDP is devoted to medicine. No other country spends so much for so little. As a practical matter, this surfeit results in no appreciable product which can be resold or exported; it is largely consumed. Yet the quality of health care is uneven across social strata and age groups. The old rely on the system far more than others and we, the taxpayers, subsidize their health care (medicare) and that of the poor (medicaid). In some instances, those groups are eligible for services through government care that our own private policies will not pay for. There are new threats to health and a revival of old ones. Over reliance on antibiotics (and inappropriate prescriptions) coupled with weakened immune systems (HIV) have resulted in bacteria which are resistant to all known antibiotics. TB, once thought to be all but extinct, is resurgent. Ebola virus and other mutations may cause epidemics. We now import foods from countries that may not exercise the same standard of care in food production and handling that we require in our country (tainted strawberries in children's cafeteria food). In America, 75% of all premature death is caused by lifestyle (stress, diet, smoking, lack of rest); in most cases this means these are preventable. The leading cause of death among adults is heart attack followed by cancer; one-third is stroke but huge reductions in the latter have been achieved. Longevity is approximately 78 years for those born today with significant gender and ethnic differences. For youth (15-24 years), the leading causes of death are first, from accidents (18,000 yearly), with suicide and murder nearly tied at over 5,000 yearly.
  6. Crime. As with the issue of dropouts, there is great debate and confusion regarding crime statistics. According to the FBI, the violent crime rate increased 600% from 1960-1995; about 300,000 such crimes were committed in 1960 and 1,800,000 were recorded for 1994. There has been a shift in who is committing these crimes; youth have become alarmingly involved and violence perpetrated by women has grown enormously. Gang membership, particularly in large cities, is frighteningly high--in LA alone the number is over 60,000. Many social scientists believe that as the family goes, so goes social control.
  7. Science and Values. It is estimated that over 90% of the scientists who have ever lived (on earth) are alive today. Scientific and traditional values may at times conflict in matters of social policy. Cloning of humans or human body parts raises ethical debate. Whether life originated on earth or from other points in the universe is not entirely decided; recent evidence points to bacteria found on meteors thought to originate from Mars. Many scientists agree that life exists in other portions of the universe and even in our galaxy. The Pope has noted that the theory of evolution must be acknowledged by the Church in order to come to terms with what appears to be scientific fact. More mundane but nonetheless important ethical issues arise with euthanasia, abortion, population eugenics, and the reckless exploitation of the environment through advances in our technology. In our selfish quest for consumption, are we are destroying our children's future?

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