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In The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Myths and Truths of the United States, authors Cynthia Enloe and Joni Seager paint a vivid picture of life in the U.S., using a series of charts, graphics and short essays that cover almost every aspect of the nation’s economy and society as a whole.Not only do they give state-by-state comparisons, they show how the U.S. measures up to the rest of the world in areas such as health care, housing and defence.
But while analysing what it’s really like to live in the U.S. today, they also uncovered a few “myths and truths” as the title of the book suggests.
Enloe and Seager joined The Daily Ticker’s Aaron Task to share three of the most surprising misconceptions they uncovered.
#1: Land of Homeowners
The dream of owning a home is actually more the reality in other countries. In the book, the authors point to the most recent data, which show only 68% of Americans owned their home in 2002, compared with 92% in Hungry, 84% in Mexico, 72% in the U.K. and 71% in Australia.
“One of the things that is a cherished notion about America is we are a nation of homeowners, and homeownership has long been seen as kind of the bedrock of the American dream,” says Seager. “I think the current economic crisis and the housing crisis is really shaking that American cherished view of ourselves as having easy access to homeownership.”
This is evident in another stat laid out in the book, which shows 83% of people agreed that buying a home was a safe investment in 2003, compared with 70% in 2010. (See: Why I Am Never Going to Own a Home Again)
#2: Land of Opportunity
Just like the ideal of owning a home, opportunity in this country is now also on the brink.
“Opportunity in this country means a chance for an education … [and] a chance for a decent job that allows you to have a decent life,” says Enloe, who points to two key factors that hinder people making it here in America.
- The cost of a college education continues to rise year after year.
- The unemployment rate remains high at 9.2%, but it doesn’t factor in the millions of “underemployed” workers—those who are currently working part-time but would like full-time work—and discouraged workers who have tired of looking for a job and have just dropped out of the job market.
#3: Land of Givers
While the U.S. does give more money in foreign aid than any other country in the world, as a percentage of GDP it falls way behind many other nations.
Whereas Sweden gives almost 1% of its GDP in 2008, the U.S. gave 0.19%.
“I think it really should shake Americans’ self-perception of two things,” says Enloe. “[One] is cutting foreign aid actually the ticket to balancing the budget, but also how do we shape up compared to other countries’ generosity?”