In 1931, historian James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The growth of America’s middle class, especially after World War II, seemed to validate the premise that wealth and security were within the grasp of anyone who worked hard. Between 1945 and 1979, gross domestic product growth averaged 10.69% a year, and the number of families in the middle class exploded. According to figures from the Economic Policy Institute, productivity and worker compensation grew together until 1979 when the link between productivity and wages and salaries was severed. For decades, the formula worked.
Since that time, productivity has increased 64.9% while compensation has grown just 8.0%. To add insult to injury, the compensation gains went primarily to the top 1% of wage earners, growing 153.6 % – greater than the rate of productivity increase, and four times faster than average wage growth. As a consequence, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the top 1% of American families have captured the bulk of the gains of productivity, increasing their income and wealth, while 80% of American families have not kept pace with inflation.
Is the American Dream out of reach of most people today? Many things are becoming out of reach for the middle class, including new automobiles, college educations, and a secure retirement. CBS Money Watch described the situation as “America’s incredible shrinking middle class,” noting that the proportion of residents described as middle class in every state has declined over the past decade.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority (82.5% as of June 2015) of American workers are employees. As a consequence, their income and position depend upon their ability to successfully climb the corporate ladder. In other words, most workers must compete with their fellow employees for job promotions and salary increases. It is a Darwinian environment where a select few gather the top rewards – position, community status, high income, and security – while the majority share the leftovers.
If you aspire to the upper levels of management – with its rewards of high income, perquisites, and benefits – you should recognize that luck is not the only factor that separates winners from losers. There are specific techniques that can be mastered to separate yourself from competitors and achieve the American Dream.
1. Own Your Destiny
Many people are passive about their careers, either due to a belief that management will recognize their superior talents, or due to a lack of understanding about how promotions and benefits are rewarded. They believe that doing their job consistently is enough to justify additional compensation and higher position.
As a consequence, they receive minimal pay increases and few promotions. Within a few years, they become disillusioned and disgruntled, trapped in unsatisfying jobs, but unable to leave the security of a regular paycheck. Rather than controlling their future, they are dependent on the whims and generosity of superiors.
The era when an employee could exchange time and effort for long-term security and a decent retirement has long passed, if such conditions ever existed. The march of technology, the growth of borderless markets and competition, and the erosion of corporate social responsibility has changed the workplace forever. Forbes recognized that “the old ways just don’t apply anymore in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace… The economy is too uncertain; the business cycle has accelerated too much – and people have changed. That old contract is gone, never to return.”
Read more . . .