The Atlantic has a great article from its latest edition titled “Can the Middle Class be Saved?”.
This was a great read and really presents a comprehensive picture of what has happened to the middle class in post-war America. I think it’s largely non-partisan, save for a call to return to some previously higher levels of taxation and an admission that some redistribution of wealth may be necessary. Even on this point, I’m not sure if the political center doesn’t believe in SOME wealth redistribution or higher rates at the top income tax brackets.
Although it begins with a discussion of the plutocracy we are heading to, it focuses more on the economic and cultural gap between middle America and the more affluent aspects of society.
Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class. Median incomes declined outright from 1999 to 2009. For most of the aughts, that trend was masked by the housing bubble, which allowed working-class and middle-class families to raise their standard of living despite income stagnation or downward job mobility. But that fig leaf has since blown away. And the recession has pressed hard on the broad center of American society.
As for the solution, the author (Don Peck) has several specific policy recommendations, but broadly speaking:
A continued push for better schooling, the creation of clearer paths into careers for people who don’t immediately go to college, and stronger support for low-wage workers—together, these measures can help mitigate the economic cleavage of U.S. society, strengthening the middle. They would hardly solve all of society’s problems, but they would create the conditions for more-predictable and more-comfortable lives—all harnessed to continuing rewards for work and education. These, ultimately, are the most-critical preconditions for middle-class life and a healthy society.
I’d recommend carving out the time to give this article a full read, as I think it hits on several fundamental problems facing America today.