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How The United States Has Lost Its Way

1200 words - 5 pages

The United States has fundamentally changed since the Civil War. Thanks to industrialization, the factory, not the farm, is the new center of production. The rural country can no longer compare to the allure of ever-growing metropolises like New York and Chicago. And the expansion and closing of the Western frontier have encompassed an unprecedented era of land settlement. These basic alterations to how we work, where we live, and what we own, however, have done more harm than good. They have increased the U.S.’ size and power, but in doing so have also brought major difficulties. In spite of an overall growth in material well-being, our nation has faltered since the end of the Civil War. The gaping inequalities created by industrialization, the deteriorating conditions of our urban centers and the difficulty of life on the frontier all render the benefits of these same trends minimal.
The industrialization of the past two decades has helped the nation’s overall economic status, but in doing so has irrevocably worsened the work lives of millions of Americans. Thanks to industrialization, the United States now stands first economically among industrial nations. Inventions like the telegraph and the telephone allow communications to be spread across the nation within minutes. Moreover, most Americans have greatly improved their material wealth. One-quarter of all manual laborers have managed to rise to the lower middle class in their lifetimes. The average American worker experienced a 50 percent increase in his purchase power from 1860 to 1890. And some, like Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan and John Rockefeller, have completely ridden up the new corporate economy to become multimillionaires. Industrialization certainly has improved the economic well-being of the nation, both as individuals and as a whole.
Yet most of industrialization’s effects have been anything but positive. Business has become too powerful. When J.P. Morgan personally bailed out the government in 1895, he showed that one man now can have more power than an entire democracy. And most average American workers have suffered at business’ hands. The boom-and-bust nature of our new economy has in the last three decades given us three major depressions and cost us tens of thousands of jobs. One-eighth of Americans – 10 million people – live below the poverty line. The wealthiest nine percent of Americans own almost 75% of the nation’s wealth. Typical factory workers, including 1.7 million children, rarely make more than the 600 dollars necessary for survival. 35,000 workers on average have died on the job every year for the last two decades; 500,000 more have been injured every year without any monetary compensation. State courts have overturned most laws attempting to rectify such conditions. And workers’ unions that have formed in response to these conditions have mostly faltered. They have been either quickly extinguished, like the Knights of Labor, or divided by racial...

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