America: State of the Union 2009

in Strategy & Trends | by David Capece

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By David Capece, Managing Partner

“I think that right now most of the world is angry with us.  I hope the new administration will turn things around,” that’s how one 19 year-old college student sums up the state of America today.*

Is America the land of freedom, hope, and opportunity?  Or is she the power hungry, materialistic, elitist hypocrisy that other nations despise?

In 2009, we have emerged from an era in which the goal was to get rich and have a bigger everything (check out our obesity stats, we have a huge lead on Mexico) into a new world in which the goal can be summed up in one word: “survival.”

Hummer’s heyday was in 2006, when it delivered nearly 72,000 models in the U.S., but sales fell 51% last year. Now, just 3 years later, the Honda Insight is trying to steal some magic from the success of Toyota Prius.  While Hummer used to be a  symbol of America’s freedom and independence, it is now independence from oil that wins the day.  Are we distancing ourselves from our materialistic past, or is Hilton’s luxury hotel launch a sign that the culture of luxury just taking a break and will come back stronger than ever?

We like to think that “America is a very individualistic society where everyone, no matter their specific dream or where they are today, can follow their own path.”  The American Idol phenomenon shows that dreams are alive. But in some cases, the American ambition can turn ugly.  We are willing to do anything to achieve our dreams as evidenced by the fight that broke out in line for America’s Next Top Model Audition in New York .

Despite our dreams, the reality is that many of us are like the 34 year old preschool teacher “we are getting through from paycheck to paycheck without bouncing any bills.”  There were over 103,000 bankruptcy filings in February 2009. Spread over the 19 business days of February, the filing rate is 5,433 filings per day. The figure is a 22.0% jump over the January 2009 filing rate.

It is true that for some Americans, “the American Dream has shrunk.”  Now it is our opportunity to lead the world into a new reality. As we go back to basics to rebuild America, we should take note of “the original American dream which had more to do with teamwork and hard work.”

We took a look at historical statistics of hours worked and were surprised at just how much the average American worked.  In the 1800s, the average weekly hours worked in manufacturing was over 60, a number which steadily declined to its lowest point, 34 hours per week, during the depression.  That number is now at 39.6 hours in manufacturing and 33.2 in the private sector.

While things may look grim, we will ultimately emerge from the current period.  When we do, businesses should take note of the new trends.  Is materialism on the decline forever?  Are we serious about eco-friendly projects?  Will we work harder?  Will we search for more platforms that help us achieve our dreams?

*All quotes are taken from Sparxoo’s American Brand Survey in which respondents (18-39) gave their opinion on the state of the nation and where it’s heading.

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