The American People Face a New Century
The "information age" followed World War II and was marked by an industry of storing, organizing, and processing data.
New communication tools threatened to eliminate jobs including post office workers, store clerks, and teachers.
Scientific advancements created social and moral questions like, “Should the human gene pool be engineered?”
Affluence and Inequality
Although Americans’ salaries increased during the 1990's and 2000's, they did not have the world's high per-capita income, like they had in the 25 years after WWII. From the 1990s-2000s, the economic disparity between the rich and the poor increased as the richest 20 percent of Americans made half of the nation’s income. This was caused by:
• Decrease in number of high-paying manufacturing jobs for skilled workers
• Higher pay for educated workers in high-tech industry
• Decline of unions
• Growth of part-time work
• Increase in number of immigrants
• Increasing tendency for highly paid men and women to marry and pool their income
The Feminist Revolution
Half of all workers were women by the 1990s. Women began to enter male-dominated fields including airline pilots, lawyers, etc. Despite these gains, women still made less money than men in equivalent positions, and women were still minorities in traditionally male-dominated fields. The gender gap was caused by discrimination and the greater burdens that families placed on women.
In 1993, Congress passed a Family Leave Bill to provide job protection for working fathers and mothers who needed to take time off work for their family.
New Families and Old
50 percent of marriages ended in divorce during the 1990s.
The relative number of adults living alone tripled by the 1990s.
By the 1990s, 1/4 children grew up in a household without two parents.
The Aging of America
The lifespan of Americans increased by the 1990s due in large part to advances in medicine; males and females had life expectancies of 76 and 83, respectively.
Because of the increased lifespan, the relative number of old people increased. Consequently, the percentage of the GNP spent on healthcare for older people doubled after the creation of Medicare in 1965.
The Social Security system was strained because the ratio of active workers (contributors) to retirees (benefactors) had decreased dramatically (i.e. more money was being taken out than was being put in). These fiscal problems were compounded when Medicare was made available to the elderly. These problems led to increased taxes on workers.
The New Immigration
Immigration from Asia and Latin America increased rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s. Immigrants came to America in search of jobs and opportunity, leaving countries where populations were growing rapidly.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it illegal for employers to hire undocumented immigrants, and it granted amnesty to many illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
Anti-immigration sentiment swept over America as people were concerned that the U.S. could not absorb the influx of immigrants. Studies showed that immigrants actually took jobs that Americans didn't want. Immigrants also paid more dollars in taxes than they received in welfare.
In the late 2000's, anti-immigrant sentiment swept over the country. In 2010, Arizona passed a law that required police officers to detain people if there was a "reasonable suspicion" that they were not legally in the country. Also in 2010, Congress rejected the DREAM Act, which would have given a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who had finished college or served in the U.S. military.
Beyond the Melting Pot
Hispanic-Americans were becoming a larger minority in the U.S. during the 1990s and 2000s. They were also becoming more politically organized. Cesar Chavez, head of the United Farm Workers Organization Committee, improved working conditions for Mexican-American field laborers of the American West. Hispanics were elected as mayors of several large cities.
By the 1980s, Asian-Americans were the fastest-growing minority. They were becoming more prosperous than many Americans, earning 20 percent more than the typical white household.
Native Americans continued to experience discrimination and poverty, even as tribes opened casinos on their reservations to white patrons.
Cities and Suburbs
Violent crime rates exploded during the 1980s, hitting an all-time high during this decade. Crime leveled off in the 1990s, but this trend had caused middle income Americans to flee the cities for the suburbs. By the 1990s, a majority of Americans lived in the suburbs.
By the 2000s, some major cities started to rebound as commercial redevelopment increased in cities.
Problems in cities were compounded by racial and ethnic tensions. In 1992, a mostly white jury acquitted several white police officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King. The acquittals sparked riots by many angry African-Americans in Los Angeles.
In 1995, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of killing his former wife and another victim. African-Americans felt that the verdict was just, while white Americans believed that Simpson was guilty.
By the 1990s, cities were comprised mostly of lower-income minorities, as whites had fled to the suburbs. As a consequence of this, cities did not have the tax revenue to support school and small businesses. Cities fell into disrepair and were plagued by drug addiction and a lack of hope and resources.
By the 1990s, about 40 percent of African-Americans were in the middle class. More African-American politicians were being elected at local, state, and federal levels.
Half of black families were headed by a single mother. Social scientists argued that limited support at home led to poor academic performance. Black children had about one year less of education than whites during the 1990s, and blacks were 50 percent less likely to get a college degree.
In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action by ruling that the University of Michigan could use race as a factor in the admissions process.
E Pluribus Plures
In the late 20th century, Americans began to stress the need to preserve and promote ethnic and racial cultures. As racial barriers were broken down, Americans were becoming more interracial.
The Life of the Mind
More Americans were receiving college degrees, and this expanding population of educated people increased interest in liberal arts (reading, museums, music, etc). The American West became a popular literary focal point as more Americans moved west. Authors including Larry McMurtry, Raymond Carver, and Annie Dillard wrote Western-themed novels.
The number of popular authors and artists who were minorities (African-American, Asian-American, and women) also increased.
New York became the art capital of the world after World War II. The Ford Foundation and the federal government (National Endowment for the Arts in 1965) supported the arts.
Notable artists after WWII included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Film continued to grow as generations of younger filmmakers emerged (George Lucas, Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, etc). Interest in architecture also increased after WWII due to the building boom.
The American Prospect
Solar cells, wind turbines, and electric cars took hold in the early 21st century.
The September 11th attacks initiated America's war on terrorism. This war helped to isolate it from the rest of the world. American citizens' liberties were threatened by America's increasing interest in protecting its borders.