Nevertheless, the shakeup of the welfare system coincides with the revving of the economy. Vast numbers of welfare recipients do get jobs, and the great majority eventually move up to more skilled professions. By , the end of the initial five-year transitional period, welfare rolls are cut by more than half.
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Former welfare recipients are not the only ones benefiting from the new economy. The working poor hovering just above the poverty line also leverage their way up to more stable lives. Even those from the hardened criminal underworld migrate toward the expanding supply of legitimate work.
Over time, through the first decade of the century, this begins to have subtle secondary effects. The underclass, once thought to be a permanent fixture of American society, begins to break up. Social mobility goes up, crime rates go down. Though hard to draw direct linkages, many attribute the drop in crime to the rise in available work.
Others point to a shift in drug policy. Starting with the passage of the California Medical Marijuana Initiative n , various states begin experimenting with decriminalizing drug use. Alongside that, the failed war on drugs gets dismantled. Both initiatives are part of a general shift away from stiff law enforcement and toward more complex ways to deal with the roots of crime.
One effect is to destroy the conditions that led to the rise of the inner-city drug economy. By the second decade of the century, the glorified gangsta is as much a part of history as the original gangsters in the days of Prohibition. Immigrants also benefit from the booming economy. Attempts to stem immigration in the lean times of the early s are largely foiled. By the late s, immigrants are seen as valuable contributors who keep the economy humming—more able hands and brains.
By the first decade of the century, government policy actively encourages immigration of knowledge workers—particularly in the software industry, which suffers from severe labor shortages.
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This influx of immigrants, coupled with Americans' changing attitudes toward them, brings a pleasant surprise: the revival of the family. The centrality of the family in Asian and Latino cultures, which form the bulk of these immigrants, is unquestioned. As these subcultures increasingly flow into the American mainstream, a subtle shift takes place in the general belief in the importance of family.
It's not family in the nuclear-family sense but a more sprawling, amorphous, networked sense of family to fit the new times. Education is the next industrial-era institution to go through a complete overhaul—starting in earnest in The driving force here is not so much concern with enlightening young minds as economics. In an information age, the age of the knowledge worker, nothing matters as much as that worker's brain. By the end of the s, it becomes clear that the existing public K school system is simply not up to the task of preparing those brains.
For decades the old system has ossified and been gutted by caps on property taxes. Various reform efforts gather steam only to peter out. First George Bush then Bill Clinton try to grab the mantle of "education president"—both fail. That changes in the election, when reinventing education becomes a central campaign issue. A strong school system is understood to be as as vital to the national interest as the military once was. The resulting popular mandate shifts some of the billions once earmarked for defense toward revitalizing education.
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The renaissance of education in the early part of the century comes not from a task force of luminaries setting national standards in Washington, DC—the solutions flow from the hundreds of thousands of people throwing themselves at the problems across the country. The s and s see the emergence of small, innovative private schools that proliferate in urban areas where the public schools are most abysmal. Many focus on specific learning philosophies and experiment with new teaching techniques—including the use of new computer technologies.
Beginning around , the widespread use of vouchers triggers a rapid expansion in these types of schools and spurs an entrepreneurial market for education reminiscent of the can-do ethos of Silicon Valley. Many of the brightest young minds coming out of college are drawn to the wide-open possibilities in the field—starting new schools, creating new curricula, devising new teaching methods. They're inspired by the idea that they're building the 21st-century paradigm for learning. The excitement spreads far beyond private schools, which by are teaching about a quarter of all students.
Public schools reluctantly face up to the new competitive environment and begin reinventing themselves. In fact, private and public schools maintain a symbiotic relationship, with private schools doing much of the initial innovating, and public schools concentrating on making sure the new educational models reach all children in society. Higher education, though slightly less in need of an overhaul, catches the spirit of radical reform—again driven largely by economics. The cost of four-year colleges and universities becomes absurd—in part because antiquated teaching methods based on lectures are so labor intensive.
The vigorous adoption of networking technologies benefits undergraduate and graduate students even more than K kids. In , Project Gutenberg completes its task of putting 10, books online.
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Many of the world's leading universities begin carving off areas of expertise and assuming responsibility for the digitalization of all the literature in that field. Around , all new books come out in electronic form. By , relatively complete virtual libraries are up and running. Despite earlier rhetoric, the key factor in making education work comes not from new technology, but from enshrining the value of learning.
A dramatic reduction in the number of unskilled jobs makes clear that good education is a matter of survival. Indeed, nearly every organization in society puts learning at the core of its strategy for adapting to a fast-changing world. So begins the virtuous circle of the learning society. The booming economy provides the resources to overhaul education.
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The products of that revamped educational system enter the economy and improve its productivity. Eventually, education both sows and reaps the benefits of the long boom. In the first decade of the century, Washington finally begins to really reinvent government. It's much the same process as the reengineering of corporations in the s. The hierarchical bureaucracies of the 20th century are flattened and networked through the widespread adoption of new technologies.
Some, like the IRS, experience spectacular failures, but eventually make the transition. In a more important sense, the entire approach to government is fundamentally reconsidered. The welfare and education systems are the first down that path. Driven by the imminent arrival of the first of many retiring baby boomers in , Medicare and Social Security are next. Other governmental sectors soon follow. The second decade of the century marks a more ambitious but amorphous project: making a multicultural society really work.
Though the United States has the mechanics—such as the legal framework—of an integrated society in place, Americans need to learn how to accept social integration on a deeper level. The underpinnings of a booming economy make efforts to ease the tensions among various ethnic and interest groups much easier than before: people are more tolerant of others when their own livelihoods are not threatened.
But people also come around to seeing diversity as a way to spark a creative edge. They realize that part of the key for success in the future is to remain open to differences, to stay exposed to alternative ways of thinking. And they recognize the rationality of building a society that draws on the strengths and creativity of all people.
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Women spearhead many of the changes that help make the multicultural society work. As half the population, they are an exceptional "minority" that helps pave the way for the racial and ethnic minorities with fewer numbers. In the last global boom of the s, the women's movement gained traction and helped promote the rise in the status of women. Through the s and s, women push against traditional barriers and work their way into business and government.
By the s, women have permeated the entire fabric of the economy and society. The needs, desires, and values of women increasingly begin to drive the political and business worlds—largely for the better. By the early part of the century, it becomes clear that the very skills most needed to make the networked society really hum are those that women have long practiced.
Long before it became fashionable, women were developing the subtle abilities of maintaining networks, of remaining inclusive, of negotiating. These skills prove to be crucial to solving the very different challenges of this new world. The effort to build a truly inclusive society does not just impact Americans. At the turn of the century, the United States is the closest thing the world has to a workable multicultural society.
Almost all the cultures of the world have some representation, several in significant proportions. As the century moves on, it becomes clear to most people on the planet that all cultures must coexist in relative harmony on a global scale. On a meta level, it seems that the world is heading toward a future that's prefaced by what's happening in the United States. In , humans arrive on Mars. It's an extraordinary event by any measure, coming a half century after people first set foot on the Moon.
The four astronauts touch down and beam their images back to the 11 billion people sharing in the moment. The expedition is a joint effort supported by virtually all nations on the planet, the culmination of a decade and a half of intense focus on a common goal. A remarkable enough technical achievement, the Mars landing is even more important for what it symbolizes. As the global viewing audience stares at the image of a distant Earth, seen from a neighboring planet 35 million miles away, the point is made as never before: We are one world. All organisms crammed on the globe are intricately interdependent.
Plants, animals, humans need to find a way to live together on that tiny little place.
By , most people are acting on that belief. The population has largely stabilized. The spreading prosperity nudged a large enough block of people into middle-class lifestyles to curtail high birth rates. In some pockets of the world large families are still highly valued, but most people strive only to replicate themselves, and no more. Just as important, the world economy has evolved to a point roughly in balance with nature. To be sure, the ecosystem is not in perfect equilibrium.
More pollution enters the world than many would like.