Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

American Public Warming to Redistribution

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

American Public Warming to Redistribution

Article excerpt

The erosion of the U.S. middle class is changing how Americans see themselves. It might also be changing the way they view government redistribution of wealth.

The stagnation of earnings for most American households has been well established. From 1979 to 2007, real after-tax income grew 37 percent for the middle three-fifths of households. (For the top 1 percent, it nearly tripled.) Real median household income in 2013 was 8.7 percent below its 1999 high. The average hourly wage last year was lower, in constant dollars, than when Richard Nixon was president.

How to address that stagnation is one of the great questions of modern U.S. politics, and there are plenty of ideas on how to fix it - from controlling health care costs and fixing the tax code to learning how to live in a labor market increasingly full of robots. But stagnating wages raise yet another interesting question: Is all this chipping away at Americans' aversion to using government programs to redistribute wealth?

The data says yes, but gently. The fading fortunes of most households have coincided with an identity shift: According to the Pew Research Center, the share of adults who identify themselves as lower class is now almost as great as those who see themselves as middle class.

As the share of Americans who identify as middle class has fallen below 50 percent, the perceived link between effort and outcomes has weakened, too. Just before the tech bubble burst in 2001, three- quarters of Americans surveyed said hard work and determination were enough for most people to get ahead. By last year, that number had fallen to 60 percent.

Popular views about what causes poverty have shifted even more radically, according to surveys compiled by the Pew Research Center. In the 1960s, about 1 in 4 people said poverty was due primarily to circumstances beyond a person's control. …

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