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Economic and Social Change in the Late 20th Century

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Chapter 30: Economic and Social Change in the Late 20th Century

Economic, cultural, and social changes have affected America greatly in the late twentieth century.
The population since 1980 has become increasingly older, urban, diverse, southern, and western.
Declining birth rates and rising life expectancy combined to produce an aging population.
Between 1970 and 1990 most American financial and industrial growth occurred in the South and West, the Sunbelt.
The Sunbelt also proved attractive to large numbers of new immigrants from Latin America and Asia.
Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Immigration Act laid the basis for an increased volume and diversity of immigrants.
Modern legislation has attempted to limit immigration to political refugees, and also to curb illegal immigration, while raising the number of immigrants with specific skills.
Continued flight of businesses and individuals to the suburbs brought transformation and crisis in the nation's urban areas, but the 1990s witnessed a revival and renewal in some major cities.
Technological change has ushered in amazing economic transformations.
The most noteworthy new technologies are those in biotechnology, high-performance computing, and communications systems.
Innovations in credit, electronic banking, franchising, and globalization, especially through the widespread use of computers, have affected business.
Employment in traditional manufacturing areas declined while unions saw their membership and political power dissipate, as America entered an occasionally turbulent period of postindustrial restructuring.
Emerging from the conservation and preservation movements of the early twentieth century, a movement to protect the environment gained momentum in the 1970s.
Environmental activism arose in the 1970s in response to concerns over air and water pollution, fears of nuclear radiation and toxic chemicals, and a general concern for ecology.
Legislation increased markedly in the 1970s, to include the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency and the creation of a Superfund to pay costs associated with cleaning up contaminated living areas.
Following a backlash during the Reagan years against environmental activism, the Clinton administration sought to regain public support for environmental protection measures.
In recent years, the movement has increasingly focused on international ecological dangers.
Despite the energy crunch of the 1970s, little progress has been made in breaking American dependence on fossil fuels as our main energy source.
Innovations in electronic technologies diversified media and transformed American culture.
Video monitors are everywhere, from museums to sports bars to airline terminals.
During the 1970s, a video revolution occurred as the television industry shifted programming priorities in an effort to attract specific audiences.
CBS began to target younger viewers and address various social issues, and ABC concentrated on programs for high school and college-age viewers.
The networks faced increasing competition from independent networks and cable companies, and viewing audiences of the major networks fell across the board.
A new media environment has dramatically altered American mass culture.
Movies and TV became intertwined, as TV hits became movies and various technologies such as VCRs and DVD made home movie viewing possible.
MTV has forged a new aesthetic between music and visual images.
CD players and the Internet have combined to revolutionize the way people listen to music.
A new mass culture debate arose, spearheaded by those who argued for scholarly contemplation of popular culture and often merging with controversies over multicultural education.
While social activism did not disappear with the 1960s, it did fragment, and mass demonstrations lost their ability to attract media coverage.
The new women's movement began to move beyond the agenda set by middle-class feminists in the 1960s.
Feminism grew into a highly diverse movement, with varied agendas ranging from economics to health care to the proliferation of "women's studies."
Sexual harassment remained a highly charged issue, evidenced by the Clarence Thomas and Tailhook cases.
Debates over sexuality remained divisive.
Following the Stonewall riots of 1969, gay and lesbian activism increased markedly.
The controversy over AIDS has spurred further activism on the part of homosexual people, as has the issue of homosexuals in the military.
Multiculturalism became a major issue within American society at the end of the century.
Debates within African American culture raged between those who supported pride in racial identity (known as Afrocentrism) and others who sought more integration into broader American culture.
Controversies over gender issues underscored divisions within the African American community.
Reactions to the O.J. Simpson trial, racial profiling, and the Confederate flag, meanwhile, indicated sharp polarization between black and white communities.
Many Native American tribes have used the courts to secure increased rights, in areas ranging from repatriation of remains to the establishment of gambling establishments on tribal lands.
The Spanish speaking community comprises a wide diversity of groups that, collectively, makes up America's fastest-growing minority, and one of its most vocal groups.
While some Asian Americans have sought to increase ethnic consciousness, they too are deeply divided along ethnic and socioeconomic lines.
The debate over Affirmative Action is arguably the most contentious of dilemmas surrounding "ethnic identity."
Many people who supported antidiscrimination efforts based on individual rights have come to oppose those based on ethnic-group interests, citing resultant "reverse discrimination" as just as insidious as the original.
A rise in intermarriage between racial groups poses a challenge to racial identity, and may, in time, change the entire basis of discussion about equality, with more and more people identifying themselves as members of a "mixed race."
Several different constituencies espousing militant conservatism comprise the New Right, an increasingly powerful force in American culture and politics.
Neoconservatives joined the New Right movement, working to reinvigorate the nation's anticommunist foreign policy and to celebrate capitalism.
Spurred by the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade on abortion rights, fundamentalists and evangelicals have formed the core of the new religious right and assumed an activist political role.
The politics of the New Right, often phrased in terms of defending family values, are focused on strengthening a conservative social agenda through highly visible media exposure.
Conclusion: During the last quarter century, the United States has experienced sweeping changes in demographics, economics, culture and society. Multiculturalists celebrate the diversity therein, while the New Right questions its potential divisiveness.

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