This: "We’re trying to generate a middle class for a country that no longer really wants one."
I have noticed a real strain of this in our discussions about work and life. Read any article of career advice online, and then read the comments. There will be a heavy dose of, "Well, if you don't like working 80 hours a week, you should't have gone into x. And if you aren't working 80 hours at it, you deserve to be fired." There's some merit to the base form of the argument (i.e, you should know that some fields require more of you than others.), but it gets applied to anything that's a Career rather than a Job. Are you a professor? Accountant? Graphic designer? Electrical engineer? Kindergarten teacher? You didn't expect putting food on the table would be easy, did you?
When someone confesses that, really, they went to college expecting to find a job they like moderately well, but more importantly can make a middle-class living at working 40 hours a week, they're jumped on like "welfare queens" of a previous political generation. You're lazy; your job deserves to be taken away by someone who works more; it's attitudes like yours that are going to make America lose to competition from hard-working Chinese.
Never mind that the reward for devoting everything may be a pitiful teacher's salary, or a pink slip from general downsizing, or a career that disappears in the face or technological and economic change; if you can't invest your entire self in it, go get a job at McDonald's and be poor. Go big or go home.
It's all very Ayn Randian, although I'm pretty sure most the general zeitgeist is being expressed by a lot of folks who haven't even read Atlas Shrugged. It also seems to be part of the anti-sociological thinking in this country. I don't mean that everyone should have read Talcott Parsons, but that the solution to any problem, even if it affects 95 percent of a population, is, "Individuals should work harder." There's no acknowledgement of structural forces shaping society. Attempts to changes the structure are met with cries of, "You're taking away people's freedom to choose," as if our choices aren't already shaped and constrained by our current structure. And failure and success are de facto proof that one deserved to succeed or fail, because, hey, you should have known the rules.
No, the middle class is for lazy folks, those who want a house and job security, who think that four years of college is enough, or if it isn't it's their company's responsibility to provide further training, who think maybe we should have unions and federal regulations intervening in the market, who want to have time to live some very modest version of the American dream after work and on the weekends. We don't need that here: This is America.