The new lead essay in Cato Unbound is by Megan McArdle, who takes a close look at how lives in the U.S. have got better since 1915. She does this by focussing on her grandmother who will turn 100 next month. (Currently the article is 404. But you may be able to snag it via the Google cache).
She shows that the progress has been overwhelming, widespread, real and positive. She does however cite five historical trends that have marred the progress of those at the bottom of society…
* HR staff and management effectively decided to turn the good university degree into the basic entry ticket to stable employment. For many that was an intellectual barrier that could not be surmounted, even in an era of heavy grade inflation.
* Getting and keeping low-paid work has become more unreliable.
* There was a thirty year spike in addictive hard drugs and violent crime, from roughly 1970-2000, and a consequent rise in prisoners.
* Easy credit + low financial skills meant that many were drawn into a life of debt.
* The rise in divorce since the 1970s, which then interacted with welfare regulations to produce a generation of absent fathers and lone mothers.