By Alex Reyes
April 23, 2014, should have been considered a day of infamy in the United States, but it wasn’t. That is to our detriment.
The American people were not attacked militarily by another country on April 23, as we were in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. But we learned in April that the late, great middle class in the United States is no longer the wealthiest on earth.
The news of our middle class’s giant step backward appeared in the form of a New York Times article titled “The American middle class is no longer the world’s richest.”
Based on an analysis of income data compiled by LIS Cross-National Data Center, an organization that houses “harmonised (sic) microdata from high- and middle-income countries around the world,” the Times reported that “While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, … across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.”
The total income of the American middle class is now behind those who live in Canada, with the middle classes in the Netherlands and Norway close behind.
The plunge in the American middle class’s fortunes occurred most dramatically since 2000, and most tellingly since the great 2007-2008 financial collapse.
Although even America’s upper crust suffered as a result of their own class’s latest greed-driven recession, they have rebounded nicely in the years since then.
The great expansion of the American middle class began after World War II, as both American business and government increased in size.
That strengthening of the American economy lasted into the 1970s, when energy crises and Big American Business’s movement of manufacturing jobs away from the United States signaled the beginning of a shift away from the seemingly ever-rising quality of life in America.
Our middle class has been under attack ever since. The labor unions that brought high wages and humane working conditions to the masses have withered, along with the American “workingman’s wage” and benefits.
Although we live in a time when the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society has never been greater, the American people seem resigned to living with the economic status quo, no matter how hard they must struggle to survive.
The New York Times sent two reporters to Canada after their April 23 story to see how the Canadian middle class gets by. They interviewed two Canadians who spoke eloquently about middle class life in 21st century North America.
“When you have a family to raise and you are middle class, you are on a treadmill,” the Times quoted Deborrah Mustachi as saying, whom they described as a 52-year-old educational assistant for the Catholic school board in Markham, a Toronto suburb. “It’s very difficult to save when you have to live for today.”
Another Torontonian named Terence posted a comment on “The New York Times goes to Canada” story that gets at why too many Americans seem unwilling to tackle the foundations of our nation’s economic inequality.
“ … the United States, throughout its history, promoted the rights of the individual over collective rights,” Terence wrote. “In Canada, we do the opposite, which is why, for example, I for one have never heard any other Canadian resent that everyone has health care. … Moreover, your political system, with its imperial presidencies, is rife with corruption. … “
Our political system is not the only American institution that “we, the people” view with disdain.
The great American social spirit has been shredded, too, by decades of attacks on any and all social programs that attempt to promote the “general Welfare.” Such attacks have successfully shredded our social fabric and the well being of our late, great middle class.
May City College students go forth and help create a more equitable and humane American society.