Posted by: Tony Carson | 3 October, 2007

The shrinking middle class and the perception of inequity

The US middle class is shrinking and people know it, feel it.

Here is an interesting blog on the subject Whatever happened to sharing the pie of prosperity?

Some highlights:

Last week, a friend in his 30s prodded me to explain how my generation, the boomers, had botched so many things. While not exactly conceding that we had, I said that the one thing none of us had anticipated was that America would cease to be a land of broadly shared prosperity.

Median family income over the past quarter-century has stagnated. The economic rewards from increased productivity, which went to working-class as well as wealthy Americans from the 1940s to the ’70s, now go exclusively to the rich. The manufacturing jobs that anchored our prosperity were offshored, automated, or deunionized; lower-paying service-sector jobs took their place.

… a poll released this month by the Pew Research Center reveals a transformation of Americans’ sense of their country and themselves that is startling. Pew asked Americans if their country was divided between haves and have-nots. In 1988, when Gallup asked that question, 26 percent of respondents said yes and 71 percent said no. In 2001, when Pew asked, 44 percent said yes and 53 percent said no. But when Pew asked it again this summer, the number of Americans who agreed had risen to 48 percent – exactly the same as the number of Americans who disagreed.

Americans’ assessment of their own place in the economy has altered, too. In 1988, fully 59 percent identified themselves as haves and just 17 percent as have-nots. By 2001, the haves had dwindled to 52 percent and the have-nots had risen to 32 percent. This summer, just 45 percent of Americans called themselves haves; 34 percent called themselves have-nots.

These are epochal shifts, of epochal significance. The American middle class has toppled into a world of temporary employment, jobs without benefits, retirement without security. Harder times have come to left and right alike: The percentage of Republicans who call themselves haves has declined by 13 points since 1988; the percentage of Democratic haves by 12 points.

This equality of declining opportunity, however, isn’t matched by an equality of perception. The percentage of Democrats who say America is divided between haves and have-nots has risen by 31 points since 1988; the percentage of Republicans, by just 14 points. Indeed, though that 13-point decline in Republicans who call themselves haves has occurred entirely since they were asked that question in 2001, the percentage of Republicans who say we live in a have/have-not nation has actually shrunk by one point since 2001. (It had increased 15 points from 1988 to 2001.)



  1. The poor of this country are far better off than the “middle classes” of many other countries. Our supposed middle class is better off than the “upper class” of many countries. Our wealthy seem on par or slightly behind the wealthy of many other countries.

    Some of the number shifts based on perception may actually be attributed to an increase in consumer greed. People seem to want more material things these days.

    As our greed and envy increase our perception of our current status degrades. This may have some impact on the numbers you’ve cited.

  2. The “pie of prosperity” is baked from rotten ingredients. It is based on a lie, similar to the phrase “a rising tide raises all ships.” In fact, it raises yachts, whereas many in the nation are standing on rocks along the shore.

    The fact is that our economy is, by definition, a pyramid scheme. Wealth flows upward, and the entire system only works with a growing population, a growing money supply, and ever more resources taken from nature to fund consumerism.

    If these factors were to stop growing, the entire house of cards comes tumbling down.

    (Sorry, too many metaphors.)

  3. For much more information on this topic go to I’ve done plenty of research on exactly where all of this is heading- where middle class kids who are little kids now will be in 18 years when it is there time to attempt to attend a college they won’t be able to afford. I take things into consideration such as excessive taxation and things I call “necessary costs”- things like paying for funerals, weddings, the price of health care, paying for your child to play a youth sport, swimming lessons, getting a new furnace in your home, the price of automobiles, etc.- check it out!

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