When the 1980s drew to a close, there were few signs that sources of discord would soon fade away. Moreover, what historians call the latent events of the 1960s through the 1980s meant that discord was likely to broaden and deepen. Latent events--in contrast to events that are seen as they occur and have immediate, observable consequences--are generally unnoticed, partly because their consequences are postponed. Latent events of the decades treated in this book, particularly the 1980s, carry prospects of consequences awaiting future generations of Americans.
Some latent events merit mention here. Interpretations of their meaning, speculation on the nature of their consequences, and ideas on how they should be dealt with are left to the book's readers.
The 1970s and 1980s were decades of stagnation or income loss for the poor and the American middle class. The wealthy and very wealthy, on the other hand, fared very well. Robert J. Samuelson reports in The Good Life and Its Discontents that the income of Americans in the poorest fifth of the population increased 2.9 percent (computed in 1993 dollars) between 1970 and 1990. The increase for the second fifth amounted to 7 percent. In the highest fifth, the increase was 31.3 percent, and in the richest 5 percent of the population it was 35.3 percent.1 Figures produced by the Congressional Budget Office indicate that when income groups are shown by tenths, the bottom four groups suffered income declines between 1977 and 1988 (measured in 1987 dollars). In the next five groups the