Hillary Rodham Clinton calls them “everyday Americans.” Scott Walker prefers “hard-working taxpayers.” Rand Paul says he speaks for “people who work for the people who own businesses.” Bernie Sanders talks about “ordinary Americans.”
The once ubiquitous term “middle class” has gone conspicuously missing from the 2016 campaign trail, as candidates and their strategists grasp for new terms for an unsettled economic era. The phrase, long synonymous with the American dream, now evokes anxiety, an uncertain future and a lifestyle that is increasingly out of reach.
The move away from “middle class” is the rhetorical result of a critical shift: After three decades of income gains favoring the highest earners and job growth being concentrated at the bottom of the pay scale, the middle has for millions of families become a precarious place to be.
A social stratum that once signified a secure, aspirational lifestyle, with a house in the suburbs, children set to attend college, retirement savings in the bank and, maybe, an occasional trip to Disneyland now connotes fears about falling behind, sociologists, economists and political scientists say.
That unease spilled out during conversations with voters in focus groups convened by Democratic pollsters in recent months.
“The cultural consensus around what it means to be ‘middle class’ — and that has very much been part of the national identity in the United States — is beginning to shift,” said Sarah Elwood, a professor at the University of Washington and an author of a paper about class identity that one Clinton adviser had studied.
Rising costs mean many families whose incomes fall in the middle of the national distribution can no longer afford the trappings of what was once associated with a middle-class lifestyle. That has made the term, political scientists say, lose its resonance.
“We have no collective language for talking about that condition,” Dr. Elwood said.
The result is a presidential campaign in which every candidate desperately wants to appeal to middle-class Americans — broadly defined as working-age households with annual incomes of $35,000 to $100,000 — but does not know how to address them. That has led to some linguistic maneuvering.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has said what makes America unique are the “millions and millions of people who aren’t rich.” Mr. Sanders, an independent from Vermont who is seeking the Democratic nomination, has talked about “working families” and “people working full time.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican, has made “hard-working men and women across America” the focus of his message.
“It used to be ‘middle class’ represented everyone, actually or in their aspirations, but now it doesn’t feel as attainable,” said David Madland, the managing director of economic policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the Clinton campaign. “You see politicians and others grasping for the right word to talk about a majority of Americans.”
Some have argued Democrats need to repeat the Clinton formula of proposing more “moderate” policies, running to the “center,” and downplaying and toning down the appeal to the Rising American Electorate and the new majority of blacks, Hispanics and new immigrants, millennials, unmarried women, and seculars. They also mean toning down the progressive agenda those voters are demanding.
Those who advocate such “centrism” could not be more wrong. The key to both winning today’s white working-class voters and building overwhelming majorities with the Rising American Electorate is a robust agenda of progressive reform and government activism.
The old formula, to be honest, has been made irrelevant by the seismic economic and cultural shifts that are transforming American politics. On the one hand, Republicans have successfully nationalized every presidential and off-year election because they are waging an ever-more-intense and polarized counter-revolution against the country’s national trends. On the other, Democrats are the beneficiaries of these inexorable trends, but Democrats have not addressed the profound wage stagnation and the special-interest corruption of government that leave the middle class out in the cold. That leaves Democrats’ potential majority without a reason to stay consistently engaged—and leaves Democrats short on white working-class votes as well. The key for the Democrats now is a bold reform agenda relevant for these new times.
The more Republican strategies succeed in animating and motivating their voters to win off-year elections, the more they alienate their party from America’s burgeoning new electorate. Democrats enter 2016 as the favorites to win the popular vote and perhaps an Electoral College landslide.
However, Republicans can also slow the progressive project nationally, with the full electoral advantages that come from having a rural base and a constitutional system that favors ruralism over urban density, as well as a conservative Supreme Court that blunts both popular liberal initiatives and the expanding new electorate. The GOP holds on by fighting ferociously to block government spending for the poor, to stop uncontrolled immigration, to prohibit abortion, and to defend traditional marriage.
The success of these tactics has serious consequences for Democrats and a progressive agenda. It enables the Republicans to pursue a full-throated conservative agenda in the 20 states of the “conservative heartland” and to block major portions of any Democratic president’s agenda in Congress. But those successes come with a huge price tag. They raise the odds that Democrats will win the presidency, executive branch, and eventually even the judiciary.
A large majority of the country embraces a bold reform narrative that demands leaders confront the special interests’ hold on government and puts the problems of the middle class center-stage. People get excited by leaders who understand their lives. The new American majority is hungry for leaders who know how hard it is for people to piece together multiple jobs to make ends meet—and so is calling for drastic improvements in wages and employment rights. Voters want leaders who appreciate the horrific cost of college and will make college more affordable, and they want leaders who understand how bewildering and difficult it is to balance work and have a family and will therefore offer adequate social supports.
They are ready to see deep investments to rebuild American infrastructure and modernize the country—if it is serious in scale, long-term, and independent of a Congress dominated by special interests and self-seeking politicians. And they understand that this is one way that government can produce good-paying jobs.
And the American people are ready to tax the richest and disrupt that group’s special deal with government. They bring to this period a special disdain for overpaid CEOs and the crony capitalism that makes government work for big business and special interests. The rich paying their fair share is nearly a first principle in economic reform and getting to a good society.
They are ready for government to help—if the stables can be cleaned. The government today is bought and sold to the biggest donors, and it wastes hundreds of billions of dollars at the behest of special-interest lobbyists. They are excited when leaders begin with reforms that restore democracy and get government to work for the middle class again.
In theory, universal programs like Obama’s mortgage plan are designed to help the middle class, and this is what makes them both popular and politically palatable. In practice, though, the bulk of their benefits usually go to the well off, and this is what really makes them politically palatable. That’s why the tuition program met an instant death. It really did help the middle class—and only the middle class—and this meant it lacked the all-important political support of the well off. In fact, since the well off would be losing a benefit to pay for it, it attracted their instant opposition. And that was that.
There are answers to this. You can offer tax credits rather than tax deductions. You can cap savings programs. But if you do very much of this, you effectively eliminate benefits for the well off and you lose their support. And as plenty of research has shown, it’s the well off who really have political clout. This means you have to buy them off if you want to do something for the middle class, and that makes “middle class programs” a lot pricier than you’d think. It’s something that any liberal agenda to help the middle class is going to have to figure out.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Midway through the last game of the 2013 Carolina League season, after he’d swept peanut shells and mopped soda off the concourse, Ed Green lumbered upstairs to the box seats to dump the garbage.
Green was already 12 hours into his workday. He rose at dawn to lay tar on the highway. As the sun sank, he switched uniforms and drove to BB&T Ballpark, where he runs the custodial crew for a minor-league baseball team. Now it was dark and his radio was crackling. It was his boss, asking him to head back downstairs. Green walked onto the first-base line and into a surprise. In front of 6,000 fans, the Winston-Salem Dash honored him as the team’s employee of the year.
The crowd applauded. The game resumed. Green walked back upstairs. The trash wasn’t going to empty itself.
Green once held a middle-class job. Now, to make enough money to send his children to college, he works the equivalent of two full-time jobs: one maintaining highways for the state of North Carolina and one ushering fans and collecting trash for a variety of sports teams around Winston-Salem.
The American economy has stopped delivering the broadly shared prosperity that the nation grew accustomed to after World War II. The explanation for why that is begins with the millions of middle-class jobs that vanished over the past 25 years, and with what happened to the men and women who once held those jobs.
Millions of Americans are working harder than ever just to keep from falling behind; Green is one of them. Those workers have been devalued in the eyes of the economy, pushed into jobs that pay them much less than the ones they once had.
Today, a shrinking share of Americans are working middle-class jobs, and collectively, they earn less of the nation’s income than they used to. In 1981, according to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of American adults were classified as “middle income” — which means their household income was between two-thirds and double the nation’s median income. By 2011, it was down to 51 percent. In that time, the “middle” group’s share of the national income pie fell from 60 percent to 45 percent.
For that, you can blame the past three recessions, which sparked a chain reaction of layoffs and lower pay.
Millions of American jobs disappeared during the 1990, 2001 and 2008 recessions. That’s what happens in recessions. But for decades after World War II, lost jobs came back when the economy picked up again. These times, they didn’t. And it was a particular sort of job that disappeared permanently in those downturns, economists from Duke University and the University of British Columbia have found: jobs that companies could easily outsource overseas or replace with a machine.
Economists call those jobs “middle-skill” jobs. They include a lot of factory work — the country is down about 5.5 million manufacturing jobs since 1990, according to the Labor Department — but also a lot of clerical and sales tasks that can be handled easily from a country where workers make a fraction of what they make here.
The Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau raised the economic plight of Canada’s middle class to national attention without being prodded to do so.
Now—after struggling to define who it is he’s worried about—Trudeau refuses to explain himself in light of an international study that contradicts his claims.
India may have set its sights on Mars and is aspiring to become a key global player, but its ambitions are in stark contrast to some of the realities it faces. One of the most shocking truths has come to light with the Global Survey Index mentioning the country as being home to half of the world’s modern slaves. This slavery ranges from severe forms of intergenerational bonded labour to forced and servile marriage, the worst forms of child labour and commercial and sexual exploitation.
In 2012, the Indian government banned all types of labour for children under the age of 14, making hiring a child a punishable offence. The ban followed the implementation in 2010 of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, popularly known as the RTE, which states that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 have the right to free schooling. Yet two years on from the child-labour ban, despite much talk, there has been little visible result on the ground. There are two main reasons behind the failure.
India has a problem with slavery, a very serious problem that rarely seems to merit discussion. The Global Slavery Index estimates that India is home to half of the world’s modern slaves. More than 100,000 young people are believed to be working in conditions of domestic slavery in Delhi alone. They are tricked into leaving their homes with promises of a better life in the capital, only to be sold to placement agencies who sell them on again to families. The stories they tell are of unimaginable abuse: rape, beatings, imprisonment and a life of penury.
Part of India’s problem is the rise of its middle class, who demand servants to ease their busy lives.
Read more: thenational.ae
My news aggregator discovered this blog post by Charles Pierce in which he notes how American businesses and manufacturers are responding by retooling to cater to the wealthy.
As Elvis Costello put it, “Oh, I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.” But the best I can do is shake my head sadly.
President Obama tells the American people about his speech at Knox College on Wednesday, where he discussed the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class, including having a good job, a home that is your own, quality education, a secure retirement, and affordable health care.
Declaring “the time for excuses is over,” President Barack Obama is trumpeting the economic benefits of an immigration overhaul, arguing that a bipartisan bill picking up steam in the Senate would put the nation’s loathed deficits and fragile entitlements on better footing.
A recent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers’ nonpartisan scorekeeper, was Exhibit A in Obama’s weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. The report shows deficits would fall nearly $1 trillion over two decades after the bill becomes law.
What’s more, Obama said, the influx of immigrant-driven investment, technology and businesses would give the economy a 5% shot in the arm.
“This bipartisan, common-sense bill will help the middle class grow our economy and shrink our deficits, by making sure that every worker in America plays by the same set of rules and pays taxes like everyone else,” he said.
Confidence that the overhaul could pass the Senate by impressive margins is growing, and leaders scheduled a test vote on the bill for Monday, with a final vote expected by the end of next week. Although the heart of the bill is a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions living in the United States illegally, it was a military-style surge to U.S.-Mexican border security, added this week to placate wary Republicans, that was credited for giving the bill a much-needed boost.
Remember, SS doesn’t contribute a dime to the deficit. There is no reason to include this in the budget except to sneak in tax increases on the middle class via the Chained CPI. Let’s be clear: this is deficit reduction on the backs of middle class workers, the elderly, the disabled and Veterans.Oh, and by the way, cutting vital programs in exchange for increasing taxes on the middle class and getting some temporary chump change from millionaires as a cover is not a balanced approach.
And for those Democrats like me who backed the health care reform because of the Medicaid expansion, well we really are a bunch of suckers. I assumed the president would protect that legacy above all others. But if he’s looking to cut Medicaid now, I guess we can assume that the only part of that legacy he cares about is the one that benefits the private insurers.