Great article on changing living standards from the 1930s to today. The author first notes the improvements, and then...
"Which is not to say that everything has gotten better in every way, all the time. There are areas in which things have gotten broadly worse, though some of those seem to be improving lately:
A college degree is increasingly the entry price to a stable career, and perhaps because of that, its cost has soared over the last few decades. Crime spiked up in the middle of the 20th century, and is still well above where it was in the 1930s. Substance abuse, and the police response to it, has devastated both urban and rural communities.
Divorce broke up millions of families, and while the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages, marriage is collapsing among the majority who do not have a college degree, leaving millions of children in unstable family situations where fathers are often absent from the home, and their attention and financial resources are divided between multiple children with multiple women.
Communities are much less cohesive than they used to be, and while the educated elite may have found substitutes online, the rest of the country is “bowling alone” more and more often—which is not merely lonely, but also means they have fewer social supports when they find themselves in trouble.
A weekly wage packet may buy more than it did sixty years ago, but the stability of manufacturing jobs is increasingly being replaced by contingent and unreliable shift work that is made doubly and triply difficult by the instability of the families that tend to do these jobs. The inability to plan your life or work in turn makes it hard to form a family, and stressful to keep one together.
Mass incarceration rips millions of men out of the workforce and away from already fragile families, destroys their employment prospects, and of course, inflicts considerable misery on the men themselves.
Widespread credit has democratized large purchases like furniture and cars. It has also enabled many people, particularly financially marginal people, to get into serious trouble. Debt magnifies your life experience: when things are going relatively well, it gives you more options, but when things are going badly, it can turn a setback into a catastrophe—as many, many families found out in 2008.
Like I say, it’s complicated.
This list illustrates why public policy seems to be struggling to come up with a plan of attack against our current insecurities. The welfare state is relatively good at giving people money: you collect the taxes, write a check, and now people have money. The welfare state has proven very bad at giving people stable jobs and stable families, a vibrant community life, promising career tracks, or a cure for their drug addiction. No wonder so many hopes now seem to be pinned on early childhood education, far in excess of the evidence to support them: it is the only thing we have not already tried and failed at."