There is one statistic in our extraordinary poll and cover story about "The New Frugality" that illuminates a wonderful contradiction in the American character: 57% of those surveyed believe that in this new economic environment, the American Dream will be harder to achieve, while virtually the same percentage, 56%, believe that America's best days are still ahead. It's this distinctively American combination of realism and idealism, of hardheadedness and optimism, that guarantees the U.S. will emerge from our financial doldrums with new energy, new ideas and new purpose.
Week after week, we have been focusing on the state of the economy and how it's causing people to change their lives and recalibrate their expectations. For this week's cover story, written by editor at large Nancy Gibbs and designed and produced by deputy art director D.W. Pine and deputy photo editor Dietmar Liz-Lepiorz, we wanted to get away from the media hot zones in New York City and Los Angeles and hear from people from around the country. News director Howard Chua-Eoan dispatched a dozen reporters to talk to autoworkers and salesmen, teachers and hairstylists, to get their own experiences in their own words. We talked to people not only in Rust Belt towns and cities that have been hit hard by the recession but also in places that have been relatively unaffected.
In designing our poll, we tried to get at people's behavior as well as their attitudes. It's one thing to say you are anxious about the future; it's another to raid your retirement fund to pay the bills. We found interesting differences tied to age and gender and income. Young people are much more likely to borrow money from family or friends than older people are, and men are more optimistic than women. In the end, no matter when people think we'll come out of this recession, most say they will continue their new frugal habits.
In addition to the numbers in this issue, we'll be revealing some surprising statistics about people's spending habits and intentions on Meet the Press with David Gregory on Sunday, April 19.
MEET PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY
This issue also features Walter Isaacson's powerful essay making the case for why the U.S. education system needs national standards. Isaacson, a former managing editor of TIME who runs the Aspen Institute and is the board chair of Teach for America, argues that on the grounds of fairness and competitiveness, it's high time for national standards in American schools in English and mathematics. It's a compelling argument, and to accompany the story, I wanted to talk to the man who might actually help implement national standards, Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan, a former CEO of Chicago's schools, has a historic opportunity in his new job. He is a reformer by instinct and experience, and he will have more money to spend on education than any other Education Secretary in history. To those who worry that education is expensive, Duncan says, "Try ignorance." You'll find the interview enlightening.
Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR