Lou Dobbs, the carefully coiffed Cassandra of CNN, regularly proclaims the death of the American dream.
In “The War on the Middle Class,” his best-selling rant from 2006, the Harvard-educated, multi-millionaire broadcaster declared that “our political, business and academic elites are waging an outright war on Americans, and I doubt the middle class can survive the continued assault by forces unleashed over the past few years if they go on unchecked…In my opinion we are on the verge of not only losing our government of the people, for people, and by the people, but also standing idly by while the American Dream becomes a national nightmare for all of us….Middle class working men and women and their families have been devastated.”
As it happened, I read these words in Las Vegas, Nevada, during a bloggers convention I had been compelled to attend. On a weeknight in early November (not a particularly busy season for Sin City) every major hotel had been booked and overbooked—so much so that the Hilton failed to provide me with the room I had reserved in advance. Masses of my fellow Americans (most of them “middle class working men and women”) jammed the casino floors day and night, depositing their hard-earned cash into cunning machines devised to induce gambling addiction.
Statistics from the local tourist authorities indicate that more than 40 million visitors will crowd Las Vegas in the course of 2007. While some foreigners manage to make the trip, the tourists are 87% American, with an average age of 48, and socio-economic status that is solidly, undeniably middle class. Only 24% of all visitors boast household income above $100,000 a year; 46% never graduated from college, 15% are non-white. Nevertheless, Las Vegas thrill-seekers spent an average of $662 on their hotel packages, $261 on food and drink, $141 on shows and shopping, and a startling $652 (in net losses) on what the local businesses so tenderly call “gaming.”
On the other side of the country, the nation’s other gambling Mecca, Atlantic City, drew 33 million pilgrims, with an even more modest median household income of $51,000. Only 60% of these devotees stayed overnight at the sea shore resort, yet they still managed to average gaming losses of $406 per trip.
Given the steadily increasing popularity of such amusements (for better or worse) in countless card parlors, Indian casinos and race tracks across the country, and a clientele that overwhelming identifies itself as “middle class,” it seems difficult it seems to credit the Dobbsian declarations that such families have been “devastated” and now find themselves engaged in an increasingly futile struggle for the survival in the midst of “a national nightmare for all of us.”