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Economics

Economic Growth: Hey, What About Us?

Most Americans feel the business boom has left them out in the cold

It seems as if they're everywhere, these legends of the New Economy. The millionaire janitors, Gucci-clad day traders, and set-for-life twentysomethings. Experience? You don't need it. Track record? Nobody's looking. Earnings? Better if you don't have 'em. VA Linux Systems, a computer company that has yet to make a dime and isn't expected to in the "foreseeable future," saw shares of its initial public offering zoom a gravity-defying 700% on Dec. 9, the biggest first-day gain in history. The day before the IPO, founder Larry M. Augustin was still driving a beat-up, eight-year-old Volvo and living in a 1,250 square-foot house. The day after, he was worth as much as Donald Trump. Never before, it seems, have so many had it so good, so fast, and so easy--at least on paper.

But even as the U.S. economy exits the millennium with an unprecedented bang, there are signs of unease. For every Larry Augustin, there are millions of hourly workers and even seasoned middle managers bumping along with 4% annual wage increases and not a stock option in sight. According to a new Harris Poll commissioned by BUSINESS WEEK, most Americans feel as if the New Economy's good-'n'-plenty train is passing them by.