32 ver the last few decades, the American economy has had its ups and downs. In the late 1970s, the energy crisis and the economic recession warned Americans
that there might be a limit to their abundant natural resources and the lifestyle that these natural resources had supported. The 1980s and 1990s brought a general turnaround in the economy, but it was often the rich who got richer and the poor who got poorer. The dramatic fall of the stock market in the early 2000s cost many middle-class Americans much of their retirement savings, forcing them to work longer. The response of most Americans to economic downturns is generally to work harder, and their productivity has risen significantly as a result.
33 A high standard of living has been at the heart of the American Dream—a house in the suburbs, one or two cars, a secure job, and enough money to go on vacations
and to send the children to college. But the cost of all these things has been rising, while the number of high-paying jobs in factories has been declining. Those without a college education are hardest hit. The new jobs are often in the service economy— in stores, restaurants, or hotels—not in the manufacturing economy in factories. Many of the service workers, such as janitors and dishwashers, have relatively low pay and poor benefits. As a result, many Americans must work harder than their parents did to have the same standard of living. Often, young parents believe that it is necessary for both of them to work outside the home in order to maintain their lifestyle. The average number of hours per week that Americans work has risen to well over forty hours, with many professionals (teachers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, etc.) working fifty or sixty hours per week.
34 Although Americans are working harder and have less leisure time, many are still having difficulty keeping up with rising costs, particularly for housing. Many people have to spend a larger percent of their income on owning a home or renting an apartment. Today, many families cannot afford to buy a house in the area in which they are living, and so they live in apartments. In some areas, even apartments are too expensive for some full-time minimum-wage-earners to rent unless they are subsidized by government funds. Minority populations are often the hardest hit, especially those with entry-level jobs such as janitors, hotel maids, fast-food cooks, and agricultural workers.