Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Death of the Middle Class

A new report came out giving the frightening statistics about a dwindling American middle class.  According to Sherle Schwenninger, "middle-income jobs are disappearing from the economy. The share of middle-income jobs in the United States has fallen from 52% in 1980 to 42% in 2010."  As a card-carrying member of the middle class, this concerns me a great deal.  One of the things that has made America unique in the past is the fact of a strong middle class.  Plenty of third world countries have a strong aristocratic class while most of their citizens struggle.  That is not a good state.  It's highly undemocratic and not something that policy makers should be content with.

Poverty is the seedbed of so many ills in society.  It puts people on edge.  It makes people less able to be productive members of society.  It leads to crime and drug trafficking.  And, worst of all, it robs people of their dignity.  When I volunteered at the soup kitchen, one of the things that the guests commented on was how nice it was to be well-treated.  It, unfortunately, is not typical that poor people are well treated.  When middle class people go out to a restaurant, they expect to be well treated.  And if they aren't, they'll take their business elsewhere.  Poor people don't have that kind of leverage.

Middle class people now may not think this widening gap and the erosion of the middle class matters, because they think it won't happen to them.  But a whole lot of other middle class people who are now poor didn't think it would happen to them either.  Unemployment is increasing, and high paying jobs are being replaced with low wage jobs.  America needs real jobs if it is to truly recover from economic hardship.  Flipping burgers at McDonald's doesn't cut it.

Do policy makers care about the middle class?  On some level, policy makers, at least, give lip service to how important a strong American middle class is.  But their actions speak to something else.  Their free trade agreements decimate the middle class.  What happens with free trade is that good, high paying American jobs are outsourced to other countries at $10 per hour.  If President Obama were really serious about reviving, or at least not killing America's middle class, this would be illegal.  These free trade agreements only benefit one group of people, and that is the super-wealthy.  Meanwhile, America's middle class becomes unemployed and works at poorly paying jobs, becoming poor.  Will this not only add to the coarsening of society and the vulgarity of people?  Of course it will.  It's something that needs to be taken seriously.


Louis Wu said...

Those who still buy into the Horatio Alger myth are many. Especially with those like the Koch brothers, who spend a great deal of money perpetuating that myth. With the rise of the Tea Party, it has only gotten worse. The Citizen's United ruling by the Supreme Court has given large corporations carte blanche to buy elections. In the end, we'll end up with a quasi-corporate government which has no mandate to serve the people. Indeed, there's a growing sentiment among the super-rich which states that the fortunate have a moral obligation to prey on the unfortunate.

Adult Student said...

Thanks for the comment. I totally agree that we are trending in that direction. It's so unfortunate, and a worthless kind of society to build. The Koch brothers already own/influence way too much.

RIW said...

I would have to say that Obama is more serious about reviving the middle class more than the past few presidents. The problem I feel is that his hands are tied with a republican led congress (which takes many of it's orders (fear induced orders) from the tea party. When Bush lowered taxes many people felt that would give society a break from financial pressures - but what it really did is it made the cost of living go up and that messed things up for the middle class. We may have been paying less in taxes but more for everything else - thus in the long run we're keeping even less of our paychecks. The wealthiest people and gigantic corporations are the ones who got the biggest and best breaks in Bush's tax decreases. They got bigger breaks than the middle class did. They received a larger variety of tax breaks and incentives (some didn't even have to pay a penny of taxes).

Bush and the republicans have this theory that tax breaks and incentives for the super rich and the big corporations will cause a trickle down effect and the money they save on taxes will be used to go back into the economy thus bringing money and creating job for the middle class. The only problem with that is that is not what happened. The tax breaks only made the rich even richer. They did not invest their money in bringing jobs or business opportunities to the middle class. It stayed right there with them.

I agree with you Adult Student that this is something that needs to be taken seriously and tax breaks (anyway for the wealthiest) is not the answer.

Louis Wu, I am with you in that the tea party has made things much worse. The scary thing is that many middle class and poverty level people believe what they are saying. The reality of the tea party is that this is an organization fueled by the wealthiest people in the nation to benefit their interests.

Adult Student said...

Thanks so much for your comment, RIW. It's nice to know that there are others out there who are concerned with what's going on in this country.