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Americans love to set records. This month the U.S. economy did just that. Starting in March 1991, the economy has been boldly going where none has gone before.
The economy is now in its 107th month of expanding, making this the longest period of "good times" ever. During this time, the number of Americans without jobs has gone down from 7% to 4%. And while a 3% change may appear small, it actually translates into millions and millions of new jobs. Infact, young people accounted for many of the new workers.
The price of the stuff we buy, measured by the inflation rate, has come down and remained low; and stock market levels have tripled.
The boom of the 1960's
The current expansion breaks the record set by the economic boom of the 1960s. While your parents were sporting tie-dyes and promoting flower power, the economy accelerated at an incredible rate. So much so that when the 60s ended, the GDP was 51% higher than when it began in 1961.
Forecasters say that it could take another three years for the current expansion to produce the entire growth of the 1960s.
$$$ to burn?
In this age of prosperity a lot of Americans are spending their time... Well, spending.
Americans are moving into bigger homes, spending more on clothes and buying more toys. News shows are consumed by coverage of the financial markets and it seems like a financial network is born every day.
The income gap
But the good news may not be good for everybody. A recent report found that the wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise 15% in the last decade, while the lowest-income Americans gained 1%. And although many unskilled workers are employed, most lack the skills to compete in the ever important technology fields.
Americans on both side of the income gap are wrapped up in a money culture that says it's easy to make millions. Whether it's quiz shows that create millionaires in half an hour, or investors looking for the next hot IPO, the idea is to get rich quick and to get rich now.
Michael Saylor, a dot.com millionaire, says the large amounts of money floating around can help the U.S. solve problems like disease and education. Many young people who made millions at Microsoft have contributed to the environmental movement and other charities.
But is this growth of wealth really good for society?
Cultural critics like Alan Ball, the man who wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty" argue that Americans are too obsessed with money and too focused on the quest for success .
"A lot of people get confused and get sort of lost in the pursuit of success and they lose themselves in the process -- not everybody but a lot of people," says Ball.
In Ball's movie, a seemingly normal family loses its way in the maze of material possessions and ends up... well we won't spoil the ending, but it's not happy.
It is art, Ball says, that can act as a mirror, revealing society's excesses.
Tell us what you think? Have you noticed a change in how Americans earn and spend money? Are Americans obsessed with money? Does the U.S. promote a money culture?
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