How a Disappearing and Deluded Middle Class Awaits the New President

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How a Disappearing and Deluded Middle Class Awaits the New President

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are making a pitch for the votes of an activist middle class. (Hollywata/Flickr cc 2.0)

Disturbing truths about the wealth gap in America have surfaced in recent months. Our nation is breaking in two. Yet downtrodden Americans are hoping for a fairy-tale ending to their misery, instead of demanding the progressive measures that would empower them.

Collapse of the Middle Class

For every $100 owned by a middle-class household in 2001, that household had just $72 in 2013.

Half of us are barely surviving, and it may be more than half. A J.P. Morgan study concluded that "the bottom 80% of households by income lack sufficient savings to cover the type of volatility observed in income and spending."

More Rich, More Poor, Less Empathy

Nearly two-thirds of American families were considered middle class in 1970. Today it's half or less. The rest of us have gone up or down, mostly down.

Stanford researchers have concluded, "It is increasingly unlikely that high-income families interact with middle- and low-income families, eroding some of the social empathy that might lead to support for broader public investment in social programs to help the poor and middle class."
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No Money for an Emergency

Just a year ago it was reported that 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That number is now up to 69 percent.

Numerous sources report that half or more of American families have virtually no savings, and would have to borrow money or sell possessions to cover an emergency expense.

3 out of 5 Americans spend more than they earn, not on frivolous extras, but on essential needs. Minorities suffer the most. The typical black household has enough liquid savings to last only five days, compared to 30 days for a white household.

Salaries for Princes and Paupers, Little In-Between

The optimistic job reports generally fail to mention that most of our new jobs are in service industries, including retail and personal health care and food service. Over half of American workers make less than $15 per hour. The only one of the eight fastest-growing occupations that pays over $33,000 per year is nursing, and robotic nurses are in the not-too-distant future. The evidence for downsized jobs keeps accumulating. A US Mayors study found that 'recovery' jobs pay 23 percent less than the positions they replaced. The National Employment Law Project estimates that low-wage jobs accounted for 22 percent of job losses but 44 percent of subsequent job gains. Business Insider, Huffington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all concur: the unemployment rate is remaining low because of low-paying jobs.

Analysts jabber about the jobs of the near future: Java application developer, internet security specialist, nurse practitioner, dental hygienist, statistical analyst, data mining specialist, physical therapist. For the most part these are technology-oriented jobs that require advanced degrees, and which are outside the scope of the millions of young Americans who are burdened with debt and working jobs below their skill levels.

There are a few blue-collar jobs out there, including warehouse associate, truck driver, and machine operator. All of these areas are quickly giving way to artificial intelligence.

One Hope

The National Review believes that Donald Trump, despite his embarrassing behavior, "grasps the need to address the concerns of ordinary Americans."

Donald Trump has shown little respect for his own workers. In addition, he wants to lower the tax rate on corporations and the rich, eliminate the Affordable Care Act, punish women who get abortions, and reintroduce "stop and frisk."

Americans deluded by capitalist promises need to learn about progressive policies that would truly help them. The mainstream media makes this difficult. But the basics are clear. We need a guaranteed income, ideally through guaranteed jobs, with the necessary implementation of a financial transaction tax by our new President, and with a commitment to alternative energy infrastructure development. This will help restore the middle class. It may be the only way.

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

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