It’s wrong to starve the middle classAugust 24, 2012
A couple of months ago, I promised to devote some of my Friday posts to examining the social impact of the economic downturn. At the time, I was concerned that the continuing shift of wealth toward the top 2% of wage earners would be increasingly painful to everyone else. From the news this week, it appears my concerns were well-founded.
A few days ago, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report with the disheartening title, “Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier: The Lost Decade of the Middle Class.” While the full report runs 140 pages in length, it can be briefly summarized by the following quote from its first chapter: “Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some – but by no means all – of its characteristic faith in the future.” And if that news wasn’t bad enough, earlier this week Gallup released a survey report revealing that, in fifteen states, over 20% of Americans did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families at least once in the past year.
There are at least two concerns that arise out of these combined reports. First, I have to question whether the American economy can ever prosper so long as the middle class is losing its economic power. Our economy is built on consumption, and if only 2% of our population can afford the goods and services that create a decent lifestyle, the market for those goods and services can’t possibly grow. More pressing, though, is the fundamental question of whether it’s fair for the vast majority of Americans to have to struggle to get by so the wealthiest among us can get richer still. If we’ve reached the point where one in five U.S. adults in almost 1/3 of the country can’t even afford to feed their families, something is definitely out of whack.
Franklin Roosevelt ran for President promising a “chicken in every pot,” and it’s disgraceful that we’ve backslid to the point where even that modest promise is at risk of being broken. We’re going to hear a lot about the economy from both political parties in the next eleven weeks. We’ll likely hear a lot of high-flying speeches about the American Dream, too. But what we must discuss frankly is what needs to be done to make sure that dream is accessible to all Americans, not just the wealthy few.
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