From Dr. Wayne Baker: Welcome back columnist Terry Gallagher …
Fitzgerald’s line, “There are no second acts in American life,” is one of the lazy journalist’s best-loved cliches, a useful straw man to be knocked down every day in all sorts of media.
The line opens thousands of stories about athletes coming back from injury, politicians recovering from rejection, companies re-emerging from bankruptcy.
Whenever you see it, you know that the next line will say how wrong Fitzgerald was, that America is the land of the comeback, that opportunities abound no matter how many times you’ve been knocked down. Just pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start all over again.
Since America is the land of second acts, it leads many to believe that, “those who fail to get ahead suffer a defect of will, a lack of persistence, verve, or some other personal shortcoming,” Wayne Baker has written in one of his posts here about American core values. “In an individualistic, achievement-oriented society, those who win and those who lose get all the credit for the outcome.”
But the numbers prove that isn’t true.
Thanks to widening income inequality, persistent intergenerational poverty and deepening economic segregation, the data are clear: Poor people likely had poor parents and their children are almost guaranteed to be poor, too.
For millions of Americans, it’s a cruel joke to suggest that their second act would be any different from the first one.
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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)