American politicians have been pandering to the “middle class” for generations. Middle class families are often referred to as the “pillar of the American dream,” as they are thought to represent the core of America’s political and economic strength. Encapsulated in that view is the notion that, without a middle class, democratic institutions will become vehicles for the non-rich majority to take wealth and power from the rich – something the rich and their employees and allies in the establishment media find horrifying.
As wealth inequality has gradually worsened there have been attempts to redefine the middle class or deny its destruction was imminent. But now, there can be little doubt.
According to the Pew Research Center, “After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it.” The middle class is no longer the majority economic group in America.
The study defines middle class in terms of income and household members. A one-person household needed between $24,000 and $73,000 to be considered middle income, while a three-person household was middle income if total income was in the range of $42,000 to $126,000, and a five-person household was considered middle income if their income fell within $54,000 to $162,000. Not rich, but not poor.
Middle income households are vanishing as lower income groups expand and the rich fly off the chart. The 20 richest Americans now hold more wealth than half the country. Are there two Americas? You betcha.
Is this trend in any way mystifying? The drop off in the middle class perfectly parallels the rise of neoliberalism, which sought to rollback the New Deal and other progressive legislation and regulations in favor of the dubious concept of allowing “market forces” to determine economic outcomes.
Unrestrained capitalism does not allow for a middle class, even when operating under the best conditions. There are only monopolistic winners and destitute losers. The middle class is a complete construction of public policy and progressive organizations like trade unions. When you leave the economic system to “the market” you get what you had previous to the New Deal and what you now have thanks to much of its repeal: a plutocracy.
But, in the interest of harmony and civility, let’s pretend neoliberals had good intentions and actually believed that supply-side economics would create greater prosperity for all Americans. Well, we ran the experiment. The results speak for themselves.