Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Twilight of the middle class?

By Chrystia Freeland
April 26, 2013

It’s evening in America. That is the worrying news from the latest Heartland Monitor Poll, conducted quarterly and sponsored by the insurer Allstate and National Journal.

The researchers made a striking finding: The U.S. middle class, long the world’s embodiment of optimism and upward mobility, today is telling a very different story. The chief preoccupation of middle-class Americans is not the dream of getting ahead, it is the fear of falling behind.

The poll found that 59 percent of its respondents – a group of 1,000 people selected to be demographically representative of the United States as a whole – were afraid of falling out of their economic class over the next few years. Those who described themselves as lower middle class were even more scared than the overall group – 68 percent feared they could slip even lower down the economic ladder.

This wary vision of the future went hand-in-hand with a diminished idea of what it meant to belong to the middle class. More than half of the people polled – 54 percent – said that being middle class meant having a job and being able to pay your bills. Fewer than half – just 43 percent – took the more expansive view that membership in the middle class was a passport to financial and professional growth, buying a house and saving for the future.

“The key finding is that the middle class in America is more anxious than it is aspirational,” Jeremy Ruch, a senior director at the strategic communications practice of FTI Consulting and one of the people who led the polling, told me. “Some of the traditional characteristics of middle classness are not seen as realistic. They have been replaced by an anxiety about the possibility of falling out of their economic class.”

Even more arresting was the extent to which things that used to be the unquestioned trappings of middle-class life have come to be seen as upper-class luxuries. Nearly half – 46 percent – of the respondents who described themselves as middle class said that being able to pay for children’s college education was possible only for the upper class. Forty-three percent thought that only the upper class had enough savings to deal with a job loss, and 40 percent believed only the upper class could save enough to retire comfortably.

For the land of opportunity, this is a seismic shift. America was created as a country where the middle class could prosper - Thomas Jefferson crowed that America had no paupers and few who were rich enough to live without labor.

This was supposed to be the place where, as Bill Clinton liked to put it, if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could get ahead. And Yanks gloried in the fact that the world’s huddled masses regularly demonstrated their belief in the American dream by voting with their feet.

The respondents to the Heartland poll know the world has changed. Nearly two-thirds of those who described themselves as middle class said their generation had less job and financial security than their parents. More than half said they had less opportunity to advance.

The academy can be sniffy about the economic instincts of ordinary folk, but in this case Joe Public seems to have gotten it right. The respondents were on target when asked to estimate the income of the typical American middle-class family: They said between $60,000 and $65,000 per year. According to U.S. Census data from the Current Population Survey, median income for a family of four is $68,274.

And most economists think the anxiety articulated in this poll is a reaction to a real and new peril.

“I don’t blame them,” Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology, told me. “They are falling behind, so it is not surprising that they are feeling anxious.

“The disappointment and the anger of the middle class is not just whining, it is based on real economics,” Brynjolfsson said. “The job security and the income of the middle class is declining, and so is social mobility.”

The saddest paradox revealed in the poll is that ordinary Americans agree with the elites about what it takes to get ahead, or at least to stay afloat, in the 21st-century United States. Half of the respondents said that college was the best way to earn and maintain membership in the middle class. But almost half – 49 percent – thought that only the upper class could afford to pay for their children’s higher education.

Humans have always been good at focusing on the immediate threat, and the nonstop media cycle has only exacerbated that trait: One week it is Hurricane Sandy, the next it is Cyprus, and then it is the Boston Marathon explosions.

For the Western industrialized countries, however, the really big story is the slow, inexorable decline of the middle class. Watching it happen is about as exciting as studying paint as it dries or a frog as it boils. But the pain is now being felt even in perennially optimistic America. There are still a few hours left before midnight – let’s hope we can act in time.

PHOTO: The setting sun casts an orange glow on passing clouds over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington September 19, 2006.    REUTERS/Jason Reed

Comments
32 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“54 percent – said that being middle class meant having a job and being able to pay your bills.” According to that definition, nearly everyone in China is middle class.

Posted by RobRoysProgeny | Report as abusive
 

Get ahead by “working hard and playing by the rules”? That’s oh, so “last millenium”! Now the rule seems to be more like “Only the big dog survives” or “The spoils go to the biggest cheaters”.

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive
 

It would be refreshing if someone in the USA was optimistic who was not in the upper 10% by wealth, over 65 years old, or trying to sell someone some overpriced, high margin piece of flimflam.

The rest of us are fretting, and for very good reason. It is indeed looking like the onrush of night.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive
 

“There are still a few hours left before midnight – let’s hope we can act in time.”
Cher Chrystia,
On 1 March in an article entitled “The political clout of the superrich”, you quoted Louis D. Brandeis’ warning:
“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
That the people who have the power to ‘act in time’ are likely to do so is beyond remote. They are not ever going to give up their power or even a penny of their wealth willingly.
It is not a few hours to midnight, it is high noon 20 years on.
Wealth and income inequality is now greater than it was during the ‘Gilded Age’ and the trend shows no signs of any reversal.
There are no Teddy Roosevelt’s on the horizon that I can see.
I would love to be wrong. I wish that there were a ‘we’, but there just isn’t.
The political parties that traditionally looked out for the middle class have long since capitulated to the drivers of the policies that have caused wealth to flow from the middle class to the wealthiest.
I would love to hear who you think can and will act in time. I would enthusiastically join the effort.

Posted by Juillet14 | Report as abusive
 

I just posted a comment and it vanished. No comments are visible anywhere. How do I see comments? Very strange.

Posted by Juillet14 | Report as abusive
 

Quite a contrast to your last week’s column where you quoted a Scandanavian foreign minister of some kind saying that we, everybody, the world, every nation, must embrace globalism.

Yet this week’s column stunningly shows the devastation done to the lives of middle class America, and from what? It is not said.

But we all know it’s from globalization, of course. The G-word. That was explained well in “The Plutocrats”. But the Scandanavian minister you quoted was given a free ride, unquestioned, last week. A free add for the wealthy classes incessant propaganda about globalization being so wonderful for everybody.

But what if Americans decided to stick together in the jungle of international competition? What if America went abrogated NAFTA and WTO? What if America behaved as a family and said, “It’s us against the world.”, like Japan does, or Israel does, or Germany does?

What if America re-instated the American tariff, designed by Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, that for two hundred years enabled America to rise from nothing to the world’s mightiest economic power, during massive technological advancement of the Industrial Revolution and beyond? The slave owning states were against the tariff.

Such talk of a tariff is now, in the age of mass media controlled by the ultra-wealthy, the new incarnation of the slave-owning states, not allowed in polite society.

Instead, we just watch as the American middle class is utterly destroyed before our eyes, more pervasively and permanently than if 10 nuclear bombs were dropped on America’s largest cities.

An excellent thought-provoking article.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive
 

In a globalised world we are finally coming up against the reality of there only being so much wealth in the middle to go around. As the middle grows in Asia so it shrinks in the west. The upper class have the means to take advantage of labor across the whole world to increase their wealth, the middle doesn’t. Wealth equalization attempts are stymied by political parties that are supported by and linked to a particular demographic that doesn’t represent the middle, despite what they tell you. The fear of falling behind is depressing enough, being helpless to change your circumstances despite being in a democracy is the crusher.

Posted by Sharedbyus | Report as abusive
 

“The key finding is that the middle class in America is more anxious than it is aspirational…some of the traditional characteristics of middle classness are not seen as realistic.” Well, duh?

If the “middle class” was once defined as an ever-increasing percentage of Americans, it no longer is. The personal computer has increased the efficiency and effectiveness of “management” incredibly.

Hundreds of thousands of clerks, secretaries, “lead men”, “project coordinators”, middle managers, navigators, flight engineers, draftsmen, and the like, all solid middle-class occupations with a “future” are gone. America’s military can accomplish complex challenges and conquer strong armies and air forces with relatively few people compared to the past.

These “jobs” weren’t outsourced to China or anywhere else. They are just GONE! The ability of cheap computers and effective software made them as permanently redundant as the manual loom and the buggy whip.

Increasingly our society will require fewer and fewer people to “do what must be done”. Computers and computerized robots already do much of the assembly and painting of automobiles and other complex products.

Computers don’t join unions, get work breaks, overtime, vacations, sick leave, family leave, or pensions. From now on, every time the “minimum wage” or “health benefits” increase in cost to employers, the rate of work place automation will accelerate as automation becomes more and more cost effective.

The problem is that computers and robots do not purchase goods and services. So the challenge will be to figure out to build and sustain a “consumer marketplace” in an essentially automated society.

The future as depicted in Star Trek, The Next Generation, was one in which everyone’s basic needs were met by the government, yet individuals still chose fields of education, training and endeavor for personal fulfillment.

Well, today our government is printing and handing out lost of money with nothing tangible behind those additional dollars. It remains to be seen if western societies can become sustainable and content on this path.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

While sobering, it’s not surprising. Bill Clinton was right (definitely past tense) about working hard and playing by the rules, one could get ahead. Unfortunately, the rules have been contorted and twisted to further advance the wealth of the those who line the coffers of Congress’ campaign war chests. Even with the effects of sequestration, Congress is willing to jump into action to make sure business travelers aren’t experiencing one more minute of discomfort, but will they give the same consideration to an important program such as Head Start which has much greater impact for society in the long term?

As more and more of the middle class is lost, and wealth concentrates into the hands of the few, we are already seeing a new type of Middle Ages emerge with the poorest population beholden to the wealthy for their meager livelihood and no chance for them or their children of ever getting ahead. Imagine the behavior of Congress if the middle class were as organized as the 1%.

Posted by giftgirl | Report as abusive
 

The Plutocracy Rules, supported by the Idiocracy that consistently votes against its own self-interest! We’ve just gotten too dumb to progress any further.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

I enjoyed reading the article, and I enjoyed reading the comments.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive
 

The poll responders’ perceptions and opinions about their present financial and economic status and future expectations are supported by self reported, income and expense numbers and aggregated empirical economic data from government and private sector employer sources. Annual and multi-year research studies and outcome analysis conducted by Independent Foundations, top tier Universities and GAO reports verify polling results. Most studies I found identified multiple causative factors, & basically agreed on & used three major ones; [1.severe capital losses & lifestyle changes resultant from the 2007 financial/housing markets crash. 2. reduced average household wage income- job losses - stagnant wages against inflation and CPI increases*, 3. average US worker wage decreased due to US Corporations' outsourcing industrial base and technical jobs] compared with three known financial impacts,[1.Iraqi & Afghan cash drain, est. $6T+, [2001 -2011] Bush tax cuts’ revenues loss [ est. $10B/decade] costs, 2. 2007 financial crash and bank bailout, [2007-present, est. 3T cost], 3.US economic depression, major job loss & massive home foreclosures,[2009-present] , and 4.aggregated legislative acts’ financial impact score,[2000 - 2011]** for cause and effect statistical analysis. All factors showed positive correlation scores with small variances when each of 3 financial impact events were analyzed: aggregated correlation ranking – 2, 3, 1. However, when those studies included the 4th impact event in their matrix, statistical analysis showed it reduces all factors positive correlation scores, inversely, without changing previous impact event ranking.***
[* majority of reports used like or analogous factors. ** approx 45% of studies scored the cumulative damages from a decade of GOP legislative control, but the majority either didn’t mention it or if they include it, didn’t attempt to measure it. *** if included, quantified and analyzed, most studies basically showed like or analogous effects, several others reported diverse effects.
With the above disclaimers, factor and impact event caveats; a majority of study reports, magazine articles and government publications, using comparable factors and financial impact events, reached reasonably comparable or analogous conclusions, supported by comparable statistical analysis, (assumed) , I cited. Some study reports and magazine articles didn’t, basically because they used different factors or baseline events. However, almost all study reports, govm’t pubs and magazine articles basically concluded that the US middle Class is an endangered species with a dwindling population; without access to political power, limited financial resource base or linked by group survival imperatives. **** Edit renaming collating data categorization and aggregation
http://college.holycross.edu/eej/Volume1 8/V18N3P277_285.pdf http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1986/09/art4 full.pdf http://WWW.gao.gov http://WWW.census.gov http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/16/news/eco nomy/middle_class/index.htm http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/fi les/documents/migrated/Middle%20Class%20 Report.pdf http://www.businessinsider.com/22-statis tics-that-prove-the-middle-class-is-bein g-systematically-wiped-out-of-existence- in-america-2010-7?op=1 http://www.dol.gov/

Posted by JBltn | Report as abusive
 

The apparent cognitive dissonance over the catastrophic decline of the the American Middle Class equally affects the catastrophic rises of Global atmospheric heat increases. The hot air of Global warming links to human caused atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution by using low cost, supply exceeding demand curve, during the last125 years using fossil fuel for energy production by is mirrored by the cold shoulder given by venal politicians or general public attention and less thoughts to immediate or future effects caused by a shortage of one or too much of the other.

Posted by JBltn | Report as abusive
 

I’m no longer worried.

Eventually, there will be BLOOD in the streets. It’s just a matter of time and crisis now.

Posted by Foxdrake_360 | Report as abusive
 

Why is this any surprise? Ronald Reagan was the shill for the corporate and wealthy elite who have done as much as they can to disrupt and destroy the social safety nets of education, job/retirement security, ( think union won work hours, and most other benefits for the working class, leading to a middle class life).
The greed of the plutocracy, the foolishness of believing in the anti-socialist propaganda by the corporate owned media, the belief in debt, stripping away of protections in banking, etc., ad nauseum. Now add in the loss of affordable fuel ( that much denied and disdained Peak Oil), and the end of the American Empire, and all human empires at the current scale, is certain.
By the time I’m in my dotage, and I’m 61, I’m sure we’ll be admitting climate change and the end of CHEAP oil.
C’est la vie and sayonara to the “good life”.
All of our grand kids and great grand kids will not be living anything like the modern Western life.

Posted by hapibeli | Report as abusive
 

OneOfTheSheep said: “These “jobs” weren’t outsourced to China or anywhere else. They are just GONE! The ability of cheap computers and effective software made them as permanently redundant as the manual loom and the buggy whip.”

So true. I worked at a UPS hub for 2.4 years and my job was to sort/bag parcels at a rate of 400 loaded bags per hour, while manually checking zip-codes on various forms (16 forms, each with roughly 100 zip-codes). One day the area manager gathered everyone together and notified us that UPS’s new system,Next Generation Small Sort (NGSS) changed all workers status to unskilled and that we no longer had to think. After the NGSS system was implemented the bags per hour (BPH) increased from 400BPH to roughly 840BPH. (14 loaded bags a minute). The average loaded bag was at least 70lbs. As for the thinking, it was unnecessary because the little blinking blue light on the McDonald style keypad made code-checking unnecessary. No thinking and more manual labor, all in the name of UPS progress. The Teamster union of course aided us by doing nothing.

Technology is supposed to be a supplement for the worker, NOT a replacement!

With college expenses increasing (making it harder to get a better job) and lower jobs becoming obsolete…..

Posted by BrokenToaster | Report as abusive
 

Chrystia Freeland has written that the increasing wealth of the Super-Rich will continue until the Super-Rich realize they need the rest of us. Chrystia Freeland, “The Rise of the New Global Elite”, The Atlantic Magazine, January-February 2011. More than two years later, I see no evidence that the Super-Rich have begun to realize that workers need fair compensation. Adam Smith seems to have had the same view. He wrote that owners may be inclined to lower wages, but patriotism and ethics could restrain them. Many Plutocrats see themselves as citizens of the World, and have money to buy citizenship wherever they choose. Also, Greed being Good, greed trumps ethics. Finally, Plutocrats usually believe they deserve their wealth, and do not realize they have skimmed wealth from the Middle Class (and the poor and mere millionaires.) The inequality has grown to be comparable to France on the verge of the Revolution. When the remnants of the Middle Class find they cannot afford to buy bread, will the Plutocrats advise us to buy cake?

Posted by BarryWJackson | Report as abusive
 

We could see riots in the cities late this summer. It’s been nearly 5 years since the economy tanked, and “we” know well things have not gotten better.

They’ve gotten worse!

This can galvanize the country to act.

My concern is that the white guys in the suburbs, with their arsenals, will, in their great paranoia, begin enforcing vigilante law. Ironically, of course, many of these are also economic victims. But, maybe only a popular revolt, new revolution, is the only answer to dislodging the rich from their perches. Humpty Dumpty.

Posted by dougriemer | Report as abusive
 

“The Plutocracy Rules, supported by the Idiocracy that consistently votes against its own self-interest! We’ve just gotten too dumb to progress any further” I agree. It’s amazing how hoodwinked the majority are. They can’t even see the obvious manipulations by our leaders. It’s like we have a minority of thinking individuals.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive
 

@dougriemer,

I lived in Hawthorne, CA in the ‘sixties during the Watts riots. A violent minority of Watts’ residents burned their own neighborhoods and plundered businesses serving their communities. After that, NOBODY wanted to “invest” in those communities.

Our little apartment complex in Hawthorne, miles away, had a central pool. Several of us took turns “on armed guard” by the pool because from those chairs we could see non-residents attempting to come in from any possible direction. We prepared to “receive” roving bands of plunderers. None living there, some with children, was concerned in the slightest about “loaded guns” or “gun nuts” at the time.

Such “common defense” today by visible individuals protecting a community as volunteers do so at great risk. The Trayvon Martin case, the one where the press continues to show a picture of a innocent looking pre-teen instead of the actual huge tattooed teenager killed, sends all the wrong messages to sociopaths of any race.

Most people in the suburbs (we’re integrated now) are arming themselves if not already armed because they have possessions they have acquired in the past they would be hard put to replace if they can’t afford insurance. Those WITH insurance are unlikely to put up welcome signs for those who kick down doors and prey on those inside.

In those states where defending homeowners can be sued by those who would prey on them and theirs, yes, those sociopaths caught in the act may well wind up in a local creek not breathing. We won’t put up with the sort of anarchy Foxdrake_360 wants to see “rise up”.

We are “civil society”. Those who choose the side of “uncivil society” may find there is a heavy price to pay. Americans are more self-sufficient and less willing to be victimized than relatively defenseless Europeans.

The “rich 1%” in American live in gated, insular communities; many with guards screening incoming non-residents. Anybody “galvanized to act” against those communities will likely find a tough nut to crack.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Sounds like twilight at Reuters – financial information business is in decline, but Marxist class-warfare editorials abound.

Posted by tx-peasant | Report as abusive
 

Abolish free trade and tax offshore labor outsourcing… the middle class will prosper again.

Posted by robb1 | Report as abusive
 

In the twilight of the middle class nobody likes to talk about the elephant in the room, immigration.

Immigration is destroying the American middle class.

It’s a simple case of supply and demand of labor.

Immigration into any country or market has two serious, lethal effects on the local citizens:

1. Immigration sharply drives down wage rates.

2. Immigration sharply drives up housing costs (and rent rates).

Thus employers and landlords benefit from immigration.
Thus middle class workers are greatly harmed by immigration.

Using its control of television, the plutocracy has successfully brainwashed the American middle class into believing that immigration must never be discouraged, controlled, critized, or even discussed.

To mention the Anti-immigration Act of 1924, or any of the other numerous anti-immigration acts enacted by earlier American generations is verboten for television.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive
 

“The key finding is that the middle class in America is more anxious than it is aspirational…some of the traditional characteristics of middle classness are not seen as realistic.” Well, duh?If the “middle class” was once defined as an ever-increasing percentage of Americans, it no longer is. The personal computer has increased the efficiency and effectiveness of “management” incredibly.Hundreds of thousands of clerks, secretaries, “lead men”, “project coordinators”, middle managers, navigators, flight engineers, draftsmen, and the like, all solid middle-class occupations with a “future” are gone. America’s military can accomplish complex challenges and conquer strong armies and air forces with relatively few people compared to the past.These “jobs” weren’t outsourced to China or anywhere else. They are just GONE! The ability of cheap computers and effective software made them as permanently redundant as the manual loom and the buggy whip.Increasingly our society will require fewer and fewer people to “do what must be done”. Computers and computerized robots already do much of the assembly and painting of automobiles and other complex products.Computers don’t join unions, get work breaks, overtime, vacations, sick leave, family leave, or pensions. From now on, every time the “minimum wage” or “health benefits” increase in cost to employers, the rate of work place automation will accelerate as automation becomes more and more cost effective.The problem is that computers and robots do not purchase goods and services. So the challenge will be to figure out to build and sustain a “consumer marketplace” in an essentially automated society.The future as depicted in Star Trek, The Next Generation, was one in which everyone’s basic needs were met by the government, yet individuals still chose fields of education, training and endeavor for personal fulfillment.Well, today our government is printing and handing out lost of money with nothing tangible behind those additional dollars. It remains to be seen if western societies can become sustainable and content on this path. Reposting comment by “one of the sheep” this is a symptom of “do it because were all so incredibly brilliant with our inventiveness – Not , howewr, so brilliant in making choicces that work for the good of humanity. Just cuz u can doesnt mean you should, and especially means u should not allow the selfvinterested to profit from putting others into impoverishment. In the future this era will be known as shameful. A vry selfctrd sequebce of feberations.

Posted by takeapill | Report as abusive
 

Maybe the smartest thing for the U.S. to do now would be to start another hallucination fueled war in the Middle East using a couple trillion dollars borrowed from the Chinese. That way you could take your minds off your own troubles while making the world a better place by pounding someone else’s country to rubble and killing a couple of hundred thousand men women and children for the fun.

Posted by ToshiroMifune | Report as abusive
 

So much of the above is so true, both in the article and in the comments. I think the fixes require Americans to think outside the boxes we have allowed ourselves to be placed in.

Education: Clearly this is a catch-22 problem. The rich will look at the middle class and say, “You have to get higher education or you won’t succeed (you or your children, whomever is the candidate). And if you really wanted it, you’d find a way!” Rightly or wrongly, that is their assertion.

Has anyone seen this year’s TED Talks winner, Sugata Mitra? If not, I suggest you Google it and watch it; it’s less than 7 minutes long and it’s funny, brilliant, etc. We need to learn from this idea — to whit: We need to create online “supermicro” courses, accessible for vastly less money than a college education, that will allow H.S. graduates and adults to become certified for advanced jobs. If you watch Mr. Mitra’s talk and realize that uneducated Indian slum kids, with no access to English, biotech OR teachers(!!) taught themselves about biotech just by being given access to one computer…then think outside the box…you’ll get it.

Succinctly, we have to come up with a workaround to educating poor children and adults in this country CHEAPLY and getting them CERTIFIED to get Real, Quality jobs in America.

Our second great stumbling block in America is a for-profit health system. My Swiss and Canadian friends shake their heads in disbelief that we allow something as important as healthcare to be both incredibly expensive and to be unavailable to the poor.

In my opinion there are a few things in life that are too important to sacrifice at the altar of unbridled capitalism, and healthcare is one of them. Hurl stones at me if you wish, but either we start thinking outside the box, or the wealthy in this country will soon be presiding over a rotting corpse of an empire. And if they think the governments that are waiting to replace ours are going to be as willing to let them keep their wealth….

Posted by SunAndRain | Report as abusive
 

Perhaps, if all companies, super PACs, etc. were barred by law from donating to political campaigns to advance their agendas and interests, companies would have to turn to their employees for help. The companies could “donate” additional funds to their employees in an effort to convince their employees to vote for the politicians that support the companies’ agendas. In this scenario, a company would still be able to exert influence in political circles, and the “middle-class” employees would make more money … a win-win!

Posted by VirtualThumb | Report as abusive
 

I posted 2 hours ago and have repeatedly refreshed this page since, but no new comments have appeared. This is very frustrating.

Posted by SunAndRain | Report as abusive
 

@SunandRain,

I sort of agree with your third paragraph, except that this is a change that should be integrated into all public school studies and not just “poor children and adults”.

The time is nearing when the only “Real, Quality jobs in America” will be created by entrepreneurs for themselves. Unless a work place is unionized, there is no such thing as a “job”.

There is only a management “need” for sweat and/or knowledge. Increasingly “Real, Quality jobs” are being broken down into tasks anyone warm and breathing who can read, add and subtract can do 100% within a week or two of being hired and “on the job”.

Our society requires fewer and fewer people to “do and manage what must be done”. Computers and computerized robots already do much of the assembly and painting of automobiles and other complex products.

Computers don’t join unions, get work breaks, overtime, vacations, sick leave, family leave, or pensions. From now on, every time the “minimum wage” or “health benefits” increase in cost to employers, the rate of work place automation will accelerate as automation becomes more and more cost effective.

The problem is that computers and robots do not purchase goods and services. So the challenge will be to figure out to build and sustain a “consumer marketplace” in an essentially automated society. We live in interesting times.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

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Posted by sunyuxian | Report as abusive
 

The decline of the middle class will be blamed on China, globalism, off-shoring, liberals, conservatives, solar flares, and any other excuse that we can come up with.

The simple fact is that America has become a very short term nation and we are now paying for that. We have let our investments in infrastructure, education, and research all decline. You know, all those things that spur innovation, commerce, and job creation. We are more concerned with getting some magical solution immediately than we are with taking the long term steps to eventually solve our problems.

Education alone could solve most of these problems, including the decline of the middle class. Are we massively increasing the availability of higher education in order to train Americans for the jobs of the future (science, engineering, math, cmputers,telecommunications, research and development, medicine, space exploration, etc)? No. We would rather dwell on the lost jobs of the past than do the necessary work to ensure that Americans are capable of doing the jobs of the future.

We are now reaping what our impatience and short-term thinking have sown.

Posted by Harrelson | Report as abusive
 

The idea of upward mobility in America is a powerful and deeply engrained part of the American Dream. Never was that idea more potent

or more seductive than in mid-century America, when the real Mad men of Madison Ave. cleverly created ad campaigns calculated to sell the American dream to the world and to ourselves. For a look at one such ad campaign that both reinforced and reflected the fairy tale suburban life offering a template to the newly minted middle class please visit ” A Blueprint for the Middle Class.

http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2 012/09/24/a-blueprint-for-the-middle-cla ss/

Posted by retroarama | Report as abusive
 

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