Over the last 20 years, two middle class American families — the Stanleys and the Neumanns — have done all the right things. Milwaukee natives, they worked hard, learned news skills, and tried to show their children that strivers would be rewarded.
But their lives — as captured in an extraordinary Frontline documentary — are an American calamity. Followed by filmmakers for two decades, they move from dead-end job to dead-end job, one of the couples’ divorces, and most of their children spiral downward economically, not up.
The Stanleys and the Neumanns are a microcosm of the middle class that President Barack Obama — and House Republicans — will spar over for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. And they are part of a global trend. Across industrialized nations, income inequality is growing and people like the Stanleys and Neumanns are the losers.
“Mobility is a two-edged sword,” said Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa who has studied income inequality across countries. “And you’re looking at the other edge of the sword.”
At the very top, life is getting sweeter. As my colleague Chrystia Freeland noted last month, the global “winner-take-all economy” is intensifying.