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If the United States were a country in the 20th century, it would probably be the country of Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln again: the “dignitary citizen”
This is according to an analysis of federal government data which found that, between 1913 and 2017, the number of Americans who reported being “dignitary citizens” of the United States rose from about 22.8 million to nearly 35.8 million.
The United States is one of the world’s greatest democracies today. But it’s hardly a utopia.
It’s true that there’s much more opportunity today to live up to our democratic ideals — at least in the United States — than there was for most of post-World War II America’s history (before the great depression, when it was rare for the average American to be able to afford a comfortable car, an affordable TV and an adequate level of health insurance). But the US remains a distinctly unequal place. The rich are richer than ever (even as the richest 5% of Americans own more than half our wealth and the richest 1% own more than a quarter of it).
The United States also continues to live in times of unprecedented economic hardship. The Census Bureau reported that the number of Americans in poverty rose by nearly a quarter between 1991 and 2000. The number of Americans in “deep poverty” — those who are barely surviving on $2 a day, just enough to meet basic needs, have little hope of improving their situation or even living comfortably — tripled in that period, from 4 million in 1960 to 25 million in 2007.
Despite these problems, though, some Americans remain quite proud of the country they come from.
In the 1920s, “dignitary citizens” were disproportionately white and rural, and were concentrated overwhelmingly in the South. Only in the 1940s did some of the most aristocratic counties start to decline, while others simply disappeared. Today, however, these counties are now also disproportionately white and middle- or upper-middle-class (although these may well change), while rural and small-d democracy counties are disproportionately middle- or upper-middle-class (and some may shrink considerably within the next decade).
More recently, according to this analysis by the University of Michigan’s Robert Putnam, the “dignity” of a county has declined in most regions of the country. But it declined most dramatically in the Great Lakes region,
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