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Read the following excerpt from America, Welcome to the Poorhouse, Introduction.
The nationally broadcast debate in 1980 between President Jimmy Carter and would-be President Ronald Reagan was summed up in 10 short words: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
For Carter, the situation was dire. Iranian radicals had held 52 American hostages for nearly a year. The economy had nose-dived while inflation skyrocketed. Nothing Carter said could counter Reagan's rhetorical question. It was Reagan's debate and a week later it was Reagan's election.
Today if you ask yourself, "Am I better off than I was growing up?" the answer may very well be no. This time it's not a war or hyperinflation that's threatening America (although we're still paying through the nose for gasoline prices), but financial stress.
Despite the fact that many Americans may appear to be wealthy, too many have been "living on leverage"—over their heads in debt—unless they've got "chief" and "officer" in their job titles because most of what they own is paid for with borrowed money—whether it's credit card debt or home equity loans—not with rising wages. While in 1980 the average CEO wage was 42 times that of the average worker, in 2008 it was 208 times, averaging $7.7 million. At the same time, the average weekly earnings for Americans has actually decreased in the past 30 years, from more than $325 in the early 1970s to about $280 in 2005 (in 1982 dollars).
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