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You're mistaken, though, to imagine that "none of [this] is true of Europe". Exactly the same forces have been at work in Europe. The rich/poor divide has greatly widened. The old industrial working class has been pretty much shafted. There is no longer the feeling -- anywhere in Europe -- that there's an upward movement, that tomorrow will be better than today for people who are willing to work. (Sorry, I forgot some parts of Europe, like Monte Carlo, Davos, Lichtenstein, etc...)
The difference, certainly, is that the safety net is better here than in the US. So we have people on unemployment benefit or other forms of "welfare", who would forced to work two low-payed jobs in the States just to survive. We have the unemployed, America has a far greater number of working poor.
It's still true, though, that wages have risen faster in Europe relative to the U.S., and income and wealth distributions are much more equal in Europe. Economic mobility is higher on the continent than in either the US or the UK. The well-paying jobs of the manufacturing base are much better preserved on the continent. If you're poor or lower working/middle class, you're better off in Europe than in the US.
Firstly, I agree that the poor/rich divide is unmistakably widening in Europe. Any numbers can be presented as desired, but everywhere I see the trend that income of the top branch has increased while income of workers has increased with virtually nill - and this during economic recession in a number of EU countries. That's a wrong trend for working moral. No one is going to like to work knowing that the CEOs decide about their fate and get an increased paycheck for it! I think this is clearly an issue to address - but I hesitate whether Brussels should.
What irks me, too, is the absence of European charity foundations, a trend that is growing for many American multi-millionaires (The Kellog Foundation, Bill Gates Foundation, etc etc.) Although a multitude of these are founded by company chairmen, an European equivalent is sorrily lacking. Because Europe a has more social safety net doesn't plead European companies free.
Secondly, the working poor are a growing phenomenon in (western) Europe - or at least in The Netherlands. There was a leading article in NRC Handelsblad (one of the major national newspapers of the Netherlands) a couple of weeks ago describing this problem. I think it relates back again to growing costs versus stagnant income/minimum wages.
On the other hand, regional government are already undertaking initiatives to support this group financially to prevent them spiralling down even further. Examples range from financing tuition fees for young children, replacing broken down washing machines at the cost of the city council, reduction in tax etc. That is a good development and a pragmatic solution, though I feel they work around the fundamental problem: the stagnancy in lower income is not addressed.
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