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美国梦渐行渐远不只是华尔街的错

Nin-Hai Tseng 2011年10月26日

美国梦不仅是指有自己的房子——它是一种理念:我们会比父辈过得更好。可是,对这一代人来说,多年来,实现这个目标的可能性越来越小。

    

装不起白色篱栅了

    美国房地产市场泡沫破裂之后,金融危机随之呼啸而来,自此之后,许多美国人都觉得实现美国梦的可能性变得越来越小。居住在白色篱栅环绕的别墅之中,乃是许多人的梦想,然而次贷危机使这个梦想成了镜花水月。不过,美国梦远远不只是拥有自己的房子,眼前现成的例子就是证明——看看最近的占领华尔街运动吧,大学生和年轻人有很充分的理由感到愤怒,从就业困难到助学贷款负担沉重,不一而足。

    美国梦是一种更宽泛的理念:当前这代人会超越他们的父辈——这可以表现在挣更多钱,也可以是教育程度更高,或者以其他方式提高自己在这个世界上的地位——无论你的起点是高还是低。多年来,这一理念一直在遭到侵蚀,而且看起来问题不只是出在华尔街身上。

    出人头地为何越来越难?原因包括以下几个方面:

薪水增长停滞,生产力提高

    崇尚人向高处走的美国梦与下列理念不可分割:辛勤劳动的人将享有他们用汗水浇灌的果实。可是,最近几年来这种理念得到验证的概率越来越小。

    前国会预算办公室(Congressional Budget Office)主任彼得•奥斯泽格上周在彭博社(Bloomberg)发表专栏文章,称美国工人目前实际上每年损失数千亿美元的薪水,因为企业所得中转化为员工工资或其他形式薪酬的部分变少了。他认为,这一趋势主要是技术革新和机械化降低了对工人的需求所致;此外,全球化使全球劳工均可参与竞争,扩大了劳动力的供给。

    上述下降趋势令人触目心惊:1990年,私营企业的收入中有63%最终成为员工的薪水和福利;到了2005年,该比例已经降到了61%,而且仍在持续下降,今年年中已降至58%。奥斯泽格提出,如果这种下降趋势并未出现,那今年美国工人的总薪水将比实际多5000亿美元。薪水的下降与美国劳动生产力的提高相伴而行,几十年来,工资增长速度一直落后于生产力。根据美国智库经济政策研究所(EPI)2011年3月份发布的一份研究,1989至2010年间,美国生产力增长了62.5%,远远高于实际每小时平均薪酬的增幅——后者同期内只增长了12%。

教育问题重重

    长期以来,教育被视为实现美国梦的敲门砖。近一个世纪以前,美国就几乎在全民范围内普及了高中教育,正如经济学家克劳迪娅•戈尔丁和劳伦斯•卡茨所说,一茬茬毕业生引领美国走向了经济繁荣。1947至1973年间,美国家庭实际收入的中位数平均年度增幅达到2.64%,而且最贫困的家庭收入增幅超过巨富之家。

    可是,在此后的三十年中,上述趋势遭到逆转——几乎在同一时刻,美国人教育程度的提高也急剧放缓。在高中毕业率方面,美国曾经笑傲全球,但最近已经落后于其他一些发达国家。尽管近几年来,美国高中毕业率有所回升,但在20世纪后半叶,这一比率曾持续下降,影响了经济增长,加剧了经济不平等。

    “归根结底,美国经济不平等问题的缓解以及整个经济前途,都依赖于高教育水平劳工供应的增长,”上述两位经济学家写道。“太多年轻人从高中就辍学了,太多高中毕业生没有为上大学做好准备,大学学费太高了;而且比起家庭收入和学生所获经济补助,学费增长得更快。”

年轻的失业者

    过去,对年轻人来说,找一份送报纸的兼职,或者放学后前往本地杂货店打工,往往被视为人生必经阶段。不管这份兼职到底是什么,它往往能提供宝贵的学习机会,大多数最为知名的首席执行官们对此仍有美好的回忆。戴尔(Dell)首席执行官迈克尔•戴尔年方12岁时,就开始在一家中餐馆刷盘子,每小时能赚2.30美元;沃尔玛(Wal-Mart)国际业务首席执行官道格•麦克米伦17岁时找到了第一份工作,在这家大型连锁超市的一个仓库里打杂,每小时可获6美元;谷歌(Google)负责搜索产品和用户体验的副总裁梅丽莎•梅尔16岁时的首份工作,是在威斯康辛州Wausau的集市上充当收银员。

    可是,这些价格不可估量的体验越来越难得。今年,祖父拥有一份工作的概率已经超过了孙子,这还是史上头一遭。从2000年期,16至19岁年轻人的就业率持续下降,而60-64岁老年人的就业率反倒稳步上升。这部分是因为老年人寿命更长,且自愿工作更长的年限。可是,经济大衰退加剧了这一趋势,许多老龄工人发现自己的财富因为股市跳水和房地产市场崩盘而大幅缩水,因此宁愿推迟退休,延长职业生涯,甚至去应聘那些技能要求较低的工作岗位——传统上这是年轻人的领地。

    根据皮尤研究中心(the Pew Research Center)的数据,2010年,在年龄18-29岁的年轻人中,失业或不参加工作的人占到了38%,创下了近40年来的最高水平。

    没错,比起那些没有接受过四年制高等教育的人,大学毕业生拿到较高薪水的可能性更大,从长远来看,这纸文凭的投资回报率要高于股市或其他投资渠道。不过,早年的就业经历同样至关重要,且可能影响到今后的工资水平。考虑到一些经济学家预测失业率仍将维持在现在的高位,直到2017年才会回落至正常水平,对当今这代人来说,前途未卜已成定论。

财富缩水

    直到美国房地产市场崩溃之日,多数家庭都将房产视为最大的财富。如今,无力清偿房贷,只好违约,让银行收回房产拍卖的例子仍层出不穷,继续冲击着房地产市场,房价一蹶不振,因此,年轻人对房产所有权的看法也与父辈截然不同。根据波士顿联储(Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)本月公布的一份研究,年龄超过58岁的人认为在当今的环境下,拥有房产是个更好的主意,可年轻一代已失去了这种信心。

    人人都在猜测,这种置业观还能持续多长时间,或者,换句话说,房地产市场何时才会复苏。房产市场崩盘使美国家庭的大量财富瞬间蒸发,恢复之路并不平坦。根据美联储(the Federal Reserve)发布的资金流动报告,连续回升三个季度之后,今年春季美国家庭净财富又出现了一年来的首次下降,相比此前一个季度,下滑0.3%至58.5万亿美元。

    当然,财富缩水不仅对青年家庭来说是难以承受之灾,老年人看着自己的退休金因为房产市场的崩溃和股市的波动而大幅减值,恐怕也不会好受。不过,对原本就深陷债务的当今这代人来说,踏上积累财富之路的时间看起来得比上一代人推迟了许多。

    勘误:本文稍早的版本曾将道格•麦克米伦误写为沃尔玛首席执行官,现已纠正,他实为沃尔玛国际业务的首席执行官。

    译者:小宇

    Since the bust of the U.S. housing market and the subsequent financial crisis, many people in this country have jumped on the view that the American Dream is somehow deteriorating. Hope of living behind a white picket fence was dashed with the mortgage crisis, but the dream is about much more than homeownership. Look no further than the recent Occupy Wall Street movements for proof -- college students and young people are angry about everything from joblessness to student loan debt.

    The American Dream is the broader notion that the current generation will be able to outdo their parents' – whether by earning more or being more educated or other ways of moving up in the world no matter where you started. The concept has been eroding for years, and it appears much of the problems go beyond Wall Street.

    Here's why it's getting harder to get ahead:

Stagnant pay, higher productivity

    The American Dream of upward mobility is tied to the idea that those who work hard get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But that's become true less frequently in recent years.

    In a Bloomberg op-ed last week, former Congressional Budget Office director Peter Orszag wrote that U.S. workers are effectively missing out on hundreds of billions of dollars a year in wages as less of what businesses earn are going to worker wages and other compensation. He blames the trend primarily on technological change and machines reducing demand for workers, as well as globalization that has widened the supply of labor globally.

    The declines are striking: In 1990, about 63% of private business income went to worker pay and benefits. By 2005, that fell to 61% and has continued to decline, falling to 58% by the middle of this year. If the decline hadn't happened, Orszag notes, workers would have earned $500 billion more this year.
The decrease comes even as the U.S. is increasingly productive. For decades, wages have lagged productivity. Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. productivity grew by 62.5% -- far outpacing real hourly wages, which grew by only 12% during the same period, according to a March 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute.

Education under siege

    Education has long been the gateway to the American Dream. Nearly a century ago, the U.S. made high school nearly universal, and the crop of graduates led the nation to economic prosperity, economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have written. Between 1947 to 1973, mean real family income rose by an average of 2.64% annually. Incomes of the poorest grew faster than those of the richest.

    But that trend reversed during the subsequent three decades – around the time when education attainment slowed sharply. Once the leader in high school graduation, the U.S. in recent years has fallen behind even other advanced countries. Though the U.S. high school graduation rate trended up recently, it had been declining during the latter part of the 20th century – spelling trouble for economic growth and economic inequality.

    "The bottom line is that the future of inequality and this nation depend on increasing the supply of highly educated workers," the economists write. "Too many youth drop out of high school; too many high school graduates are not college-ready. Tuition levels for college are high and have risen relative to family incomes and student financial aid."

Young and jobless

    It used to be that a paper route or an after-school job at the local grocer was viewed as a rite of passage for young people. Whatever the job, it's often a learning experience that even the most high-profile CEOs today recall. At 12 years old, Dell (DELL) CEO Michael Dell started working as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant for $2.30 an hour; Wal-Mart (WMT) International CEO Doug McMillon got his first job at one of the big box retail chain's warehouses when he was 17 for $6 an hour; at 16, Google (GOOG) vice president of search products and user experience Marissa Mayer got her start as a checkout clerk in the County Market in Wausau, WI.

    But those invaluable experiences are increasingly harder to come by. For the first time last year, grandpa was more likely to have a job than his grandson. Since 2000, employment among 16 to19-year olds has been declining, while that of 60 to 64-year olds has steadily risen. This is partly attributable to seniors living longer and voluntarily wanting to work longer. However, the Great Recession accelerated the trend. Older workers seeing their wealth decline with the plunge of the stock market and collapse of the housing market stayed at their jobs longer or took lower-skilled jobs ordinarily filled by younger workers.

    And among young adults 18 to 29, the share of unemployed or out of the work force in 2010 – 38% -- was the highest in nearly four decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

    True, college grads are more likely to earn more than those without a four-year degree, and that piece of paper returns more over the long-term than the stock market and other investments. But the early years of a career are also essential and could influence pay down the road. And with some economists predicting that today's high unemployment won't fall back to normal until 2017, this certainly is uncharted territory for today's generation.

Loss of wealth

    Up until the crash of the U.S. housing market, most considered their homes their biggest source of wealth. Needless to say, with the slump in prices as foreclosures and defaults continue to plague the market, younger people today have a very different view of homeownership. While those older than 58 think owning is an even better idea today, younger owners have lost confidence, according to a study by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released this month.

    It's anyone's guess how long the view will hold, or for that matter, when the real estate market will rebound. But it has diminished much of Americans' wealth, which has seen a mixed recovery. After having risen for three straight quarters, household net worth this spring fell for the first time in a year, dropping 0.3 % to $58.5 trillion from the previous quarter, according to the Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds report.

    To be sure, the decline has also been incredibly tough not just on younger households, but also for seniors who have seen their retirement funds fall in tandem with not just housing but also the volatile stock market. But for the current generation, heavy in debt, the start of building wealth looks to be coming much later than in the previous generation.

    Update: An earlier version of this story misidentified Doug McMillon as CEO of Wal-Mart. He is CEO of Wal-Mart International.

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