“The Decline of the American Middle Class,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
When I was a young person living in Bayside, Queens, one of my neighbors was a taxi driver who had a non-working wife and the other was a plumber. My father was a lawyer who worked for the Law Department of the City of New York. We all saw ourselves as members of the American Middle class. The fact of the matter is, and I did not know this at that time, that we all considered ourselves as middle class, although frankly, we did not have much money and by today’s standards, we were poor. Nevertheless, the taxi driver and plumber owned fairly nice houses, and in all instances, the husbands had non-working wives and several children on what was by today’s standards rather meager incomes.
Today, by all standards, those persons on my block in Bayside, who were members of the middle class, are no longer so. This little essay proposes to examine what happened to the middle class in the present day 2018. I am not an economist or historian, and my knowledge of what happened here is limited. But what happened here is the following…
Before the Great Depression, American society consisted of the haves and have-nots. The have- nots at that time were the rural and urban poor. The United States at that time was probably 60-65% rural and rural poverty was very great, particularly in the South, or at least I think so. The reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt resulted, by the end of his Presidency, in the creation of an American middle class.
How did this happen? There are several factors. First, after a great struggle, the American worker was permitted to form unions and engage in collective bargaining with the result that the workers in the manufacturing sector were raised through negotiation and collective bargaining with the manufacturing companies which employed them to middle class status. At the beginning of this process, the corporate sector vehemently opposed the formation of unions even to the extent of engaging in violence against them and their formation.
Second, President Franklin Roosevelt modified and reformed America’s raw-boned capitalist system, bringing about such changes as Social Security for persons over 65, Social Security Disability for ill and disabled persons, unemployment insurance for fired or laid off workers, workers’ compensation and others. One of the great projects and reforms was the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought electricity to significantly impoverished sections of the rural population of this country which probably had no electricity or running water.
By 1948 or1950, after the end of World War II, an American middle class had emerged.
At the present time, that American class is not only on the decline but is in the process of elimination from the scene. The reasons for this are the following factors: 1. Unions have been eliminated since the mid-1960’s with the result that those workers who obtained middle class status have been pushed down for want of a better phrase to the lower economic section of society. 2. There has been an outsourcing of business to Asia together with an influx of extremely cost effective, if not cheap, Hispanic or Third World labor who work for extremely low wages, with which the American workers is unable to compete. Finally, a situation has been created by the global corporate sector to create a peonage system of work within the United States in which workers have no job security, obtain no pensions, and have an extremely limited working life. Often these workers are eliminated from the workforce by the time they are in their mid-forties.
This labor system is extremely cost-effective for the corporate global sector. In fact, for some time now, there have been forces in American society that wish to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Thus, the American middle class created by the New Deal has largely been marginalized, if not completely eliminated. Thus our society has once again been transformed to the prior to 1930 society of haves and have nots. Perhaps the most defined reasons for this entire situation are greed, avarice, and selfishness on the part of some small group of people who want as much as they can get and oppose some degree of equal distribution of wealth.
I think, unfortunately, our system, with its gross emphasis on money at its and core, has brought this situation about. This emphasis on money has pushed out any other thought systems whether the church, communism, or socialism which in prior times had some play in our system. All systems are defective because the human beings who participate in them are imperfect. I think the imperfection in our present system lies in its present on making money the sole yardstick and measuring rod of all human endeavors and activity. This is corruption and I speculate it is dragging all of us down.
There is no middle class at this point in time because there are forces in American society that do not want it. What the future will bring I cannot say, and perhaps I will not live to see it. I can only say that a society solely based on wealth acquisition goes and will go nowhere.
This essay is taken from my book Essays on Faith, Politics, Culture, and Philosophy pub. by UPA, 2016, pp. 123-125 chapter 43, and also on Academia.edu.