Magazine article The New American

The Fading Middle Class: Notwithstanding the Very Real Technological Advances That Americans Use for Their Benefit, the Standard of Living for America's Middle Class Has Been Declining for Decades

Magazine article The New American

The Fading Middle Class: Notwithstanding the Very Real Technological Advances That Americans Use for Their Benefit, the Standard of Living for America's Middle Class Has Been Declining for Decades

Article excerpt

As a boy back in the I 970s, I sometimes enjoyed, in the basement bedroom of my best friend, the guilty pleasure of perusing Mad magazine, a then-fresh satirical publication designed to educate teens and young adults, tongue in cheek, in the ways of the world. One particular piece, written and drolly illustrated by one Lloyd Gola, left a particular impression on me. It was entitled "Middle Class Poverty Is ... and laid out a number of humorous scenarios typical of the recession-ridden American middle class of the mid-1970s. "You've heard of 'Inner City Poverty' and 'Appalachian Poverty' and 'Old Age Poverty,'" the subtitle proclaimed. "And yet, millions of our citizens are being inflicted with another type of poverty. We're referring, of course, to the great American Middle Class ... working ... paying bills and taxes ... and somehow, just about making it through from payday to payday!" According to the article, the symptoms of "Middle Class Poverty" included:

"Hiding inside your $30,000.00 house because you don't have the money to pay the paper boy."

"Receiving compliments from your friends on your antique furniture ... and you never even knew you owned any an-tiques."

"Getting a moonlighting job at your local gas station, and hoping none of your neighbors show up."

"Watching the President on TV announcing that the recession is over ... the same day you were canned."

"Encouraging your daughter and her fiance to elope."

"Helping your working wife clean the house on Saturday."

"Having to wait to read the latest bestseller until it comes out in paperback."

"Not being able to scream at your kid to get a haircut because you can't spare the three bucks."

Symptoms of the Slide

While the prices seem positively quaint by today's standards, the symptoms have a very familiar ring, although many middle-class families in 2014 probably wish they could make ends meet merely by picking up extra part-time work at a gas station or convenience store. The '70s were a decade of economic and financial turmoil that led to significant declines in the American standard of living, especially for a middle class only recently flush with the fruits of the booming 1950s and '60s. But those hard economic times, which also saw the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the Carter presidency, have been surpassed by the political and economic tumult of the new century.

Although the American economy appears to be in sluggish recovery these days, at least in contrast with the havoc wrought by the recent recession, the longterm trends are clear: The American middle class has been in unmistakable longterm decline since at least the 1970s, and the rising generation can expect to enjoy a significantly lower standard of living and financial well-being than its immediate predecessors.

The existence of a large, vibrant middle class is pivotal to maintaining a free society, for it is the middle class that furnishes all of the new business startups--some of which become Walmarts and Amazon. coms--and that provides the lion's share of employment thanks to the myriad small businesses that keep the Main Street economy up and running. Every great Fortune 500 corporation began in some middle-class garage, basement, warehouse, or morn and pop storefront. With a vibrant middle class and economic freedom, society will progress and anyone can accumulate capital. Without a middle class, society will revert to feudalism, in which all the wealth is controlled by a few oligarchs and no one not born into privilege can aspire to rise above his lowly station.

- In times of relative plenty, like the great fmancial boom of the 1980s and '90s, the overall trend isn't obvious to many people, because the masters of the modern fiat currency-driven economy have perfected the art of concealing economic weakness with what former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan termed "irrational exuberance. …

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