David Frum

03.18.13

The America We've Lost

Bob Patterson reminds us of the world we have lost - and that millions of Americans still regret:

When the Philadelphia Electric Co. hired my father as an engineer in 1946, little did the freshly minted graduate of Tufts University and the Navy V-12 program realize that he had hit the jackpot.

For the next 41 years, he and his wife would prosper from a rarity today: remarkable job stability, regular salary increases, and gold-standard benefits that enabled them - on a single "family wage" - to raise five children and send them to college. Moreover, his coveted compensation package was graced with a defined-benefit pension and health-care coverage at retirement for him and my mom, including survivor's benefits after he passed away.

Granted, my father held a college degree; yet the blue-collar unionized workforce at Peco enjoyed the same employment security, wage hikes, and generous benefits. Nor was my dad's experience out of the ordinary: his counterparts at AT&T and GE enjoyed similar experiences.

Now, as his grandchildren launch careers and families, their chances of finding their path to prosperity have diminished considerably, as the American economy and labor market have suffered convulsion after convulsion for years, even before the financial meltdown of 2008. …

[A]s stocks hit record highs and median family income continues to sink, most Americans wonder exactly what's being done to restore the American way of life my parents knew.