NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Occupy Wall Street may be out of Zuccotti Park, but Americans ignore its message at their peril.
The protesters may have been pushed out of prominent venues around the country, but the forces that inspired the mass, albeit unseemly, demonstrations have not abated. The U.S. is rapidly fracturing into two nations: affluent players in the global economy and growing masses facing a diminished standard of living for themselves and their children.
If forces marginalizing millions are not addressed, America is headed for much worse than tent cities and baths in parks. Economic bifurcation into the super affluent and the poor will erode the institutions and values that bound together immigrants from many heritages, faiths and tongues into a single nation.
The Census Bureau reports about 100 million Americans — one in three — live in or perilously close to poverty.
Many are working but rely on food stamps, government agencies and charity to feed, clothe and provide medical care to their children. Most have too few resources to see a dentist regularly or even subscribe to a daily newspaper. They rely on cars, often because decent housing is much too costly near their work, and are forced to live too far from grocery stores, other services and multiple jobs to practically rely on public transportation.
Hardly all marginalized Americans are recent immigrants with poor English proficiency. Many are high school graduates or have been to college but can’t land a decent, permanent job that permits skills-building and initiates the climb to middle class affluence. Many are older workers, whose positions permanently disappeared during the Great Recession.
The economy has changed and simply no longer needs these workers, and that is nothing new. Stagnant wages, declining living standards and a shrinking middle have been in the headlines for more than a decade.
Globalization — transcontinental commerce and high-speed communications — and labor-saving technologies that displace even well-educated professionals in traditional industries are creating only limited numbers of new opportunities in knowledge-based and creative activities: industrial design and software, high-tech manufacturing, sophisticated finance, national media, health care, and the like.