Opinion

David Rohde

What do we mean by “middle class”?

David Rohde
Dec 29, 2011 21:51 UTC

Update: My apologies. I cited the wrong Census data table when describing my definition of the middle class. A corrected version is below.

Are you middle class?

For decades, praising the middle class has been a staple of American politics. Candidates vow to defend the middle class and accuse their opponents of betraying it. But what, exactly, is the “middle class”?

Since I began writing this column three months ago, readers have asked for an exact definition of the middle class. The question is a legitimate and vital one. With studies showing the American middle class in decline, understanding which policies create, expand and protect the demographic is more important than ever. But definitions vary.

Despite the incessant political lip service paid to the middle class, there is no official American government definition of the group. The middle class has been intensively studied but no political consensus exists over how it was created or how to strengthen it. Liberals credit government programs with helping create a thriving American middle class after World War II. They cite the G.I. bill, home mortgage interest deduction and state university system as examples. Conservatives credit unbridled, American free market capitalism with the feat. I believe it was both.

Within weeks of taking office, the Obama administration’s launched its own effort to help the group. Chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, the “Middle Class Task Force” was launched in January 2009 and includes the secretaries of labor, health and human services, education and commerce.

The year in review for the American middle class

David Rohde
Dec 22, 2011 20:39 UTC

By almost every measure, 2011 was a lost year for the American middle class. Who is to blame depends on your political view. What follows is an attempt to sum up the major developments and missed opportunities of the year gone by. For me, the following areas represent the most serious perils facing middle class Americans.

– Jobs: Economists generally agree that the single most effective way to revive the American middle class is to create more high-paying, stable private sector jobs. The unexpected emergence of 140,000 new private sector jobs in November helped drop the unemployment rate to a two-and-a-half-year low 8.6 percent, but the rosier figure was aided by 315,000 people who gave up and stopped looking for work last month. The most important factor of all — the quality of the new jobs — was unclear. Governments, meanwhile, slashed 20,000 public sector jobs across the country and deadlock in Washington blocked both Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan and Republican job creation proposals.

– Fiscal order: Economists also generally agree that a bipartisan plan to seriously address the $1.7 trillion federal deficit could increase business and consumer confidence, strengthen the economy and potentially create jobs. The year began with hopes that the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan might gain traction in Washington. Yet President Obama and Republican leaders both failed to embrace it. Months of disastrous partisanship followed, from the summer default brinksmanship, to the fall failure of the Congressional super-committee to the prolonged deadlock over how to fund payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extensions.

In Milwaukee, an evaporating middle class

David Rohde
Dec 15, 2011 23:22 UTC

MILWAUKEE — As Washington and Madison fiddle, this city’s middle class is in slow free fall.

First, the numbers. From 1970 to 2007, the percentage of families in the Milwaukee metropolitan area that were middle class declined from 37 to 24 percent, according to a new analysis by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.


(Click on the photo above for a slideshow) During the same period, the proportion of affluent families grew from 22 to 27 percent–while the percentage of poor households swelled from 23 to 31 percent. In short, Milwaukee’s middle class families went from a plurality to its smallest minority. 

Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, we’re not in Kansas anymore

David Rohde
Dec 8, 2011 19:15 UTC

On Tuesday, Barack Obama declared the debate over how to restore growth, balance, and fairness to the American economy the “defining issue of our time.”

“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” he said in a Kansas speech, “and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”

The following day, Republican front-runner New Gingrich said Mr. Obama “represents a hard left radicalism” and is “opposed to capitalism and everything that made America great.” The answer, he said, was slashing taxes and the size of the federal government.

Occupy something

David Rohde
Dec 2, 2011 02:31 UTC

By David Rohde

The views expressed are his own.

Update: On Dec. 6th, Occupy protesters began a new tactic of rallying around homeowners trying to resist foreclosures in several cities. Read more here and here. The following column was published on Dec. 1st.

The Occupy movement is flirting with irrelevance. While press reports trumpet the movement’s introduction of the phrase “we are the 99 percent” into the political conversation, the group’s largest encampments have been razed. On Wednesday night, Los Angeles and Philadelphia joined New York, Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis in clearing out its protesters. Small demonstrations continue, but the movement now needs to turn catch-phrases into political change.

This week, Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was a symbol of the movement’s potential dissolution. On Tuesday afternoon, a dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters held a quiet discussion in one corner of the park. In another, a lone office worker sat at a small, marble table and ate his lunch. Christmas lights glistened on trees that once sheltered protesters. Scores of police blocked anyone with a tent from entering the area.

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