I wanted to follow-up on last night’s meeting because it went in a different direction than I intended with the topic. That’s always okay, of course. Maybe it was my fault. I emphasized the “class” part of “working class” (their sad financial plight), not the “working” part.
The working class is not synonymous with the underclass or the poor, and, IMO, their main problem is not a “dependence” on the industrialized world’s most threadbare social safety net. You may disagree, and discussing what to do about the “underclass” and the very poorest among us might be an interesting topic. I believe the measly amount we spend on alleviating poverty is a much bigger hindrance to people being able to escape it than is any inferior cultural values or (sigh) “dependence” on the dole. (Another issue would be why we so seldom condemn the cultural values of people who make a good living. Do we unconsciously equate wealth with virtue and poverty with vice? But I digress.) I believe that dysfunctional culture among a segment of the poor is more a cause of the economy leaving them behind than them choosing to stay behind. But, maybe if we did debate this, I’d learn something to change my mind.
Regardless, my idea for yesterday was to talk about how hard it is for working people to get ahead or even stay afloat in the richest country in the world in the 21st century, plus what we might do about it. Again, most people in our working class (however defined), well, work. And, damned hard, too, when they can get it and at the best jobs available to them, given their education, training, and the economic niche they inhabit. Moreover, as Aaron pointed out, the lower-middle class, if you prefer the term to working class — say, the 20th – 40th percentile of us by income — has been slowly sliding downward over the decades as the economy has shifted under their feet. Forget the poverty level. Most accounts I’ve read say that trying to live off of even 150% or 200% of the poverty level is not enough to save money, invest in a business or your children, pay for good health insurance, and access the American dream as most of us understand it. One-half of U.S. adults reported that they lived paycheck to paycheck (meaning they work), and this was before the Great Recession. Since then, unemployment has been 7%-10% for coming up on half a decade. Household wealth has collapsed *(by 40% since 2007). College tuition costs have skyrocketed. Governments have slashed over 750,000 jobs and spending on basic social services. I could go on and on.
My idea of the topic was to debate how our politics and public policies might be different if they focused on providing more opportunities to these people. This is a tall order. Right and Left agree that only the private economy can generate enough good jobs in a sustainable way so as to lift so many people up to the middle class and keep them there. But, they totally disagree on how to restart that kind of growth and on what supports working people need to help them to share in the proceeds. As my links suggested, conservatives believe that tax cuts, deregulation, and reduced social spending are the answer, and liberals believe we need to rebuild the social supports that working people used to have.
Anyway, am I wrong about our discussion? Did I hear only what I wanted to hear? Please tell me in comments and, if you want, read these links that explain some recent developments that, at least to me, show how our society is still heading in the wrong direction.
- As I mentioned last night, jobs that pay middle-range wages ($14-$21/hour) have been decimated by the Great Recession, and 60% of the jobs added since the recovery began are low-wage (less than $13/hr) jobs!
- The share of GDP going to compensation (wages + benefits) is the lowest it’s been since they started keeping the data in 1947.
- Companies are starting to replace traditional health care plans with “defined benefit” HC plans; i.e., they’ll just contribute a set amount per month to a private employee account to be used for HC expenses. If it’s not enough to cover your doctor/hospital bills, too bad for you. This is legal under Obamacare, although not caused by it
- The newest Paul Ryan house Republican budget just came out, and – like in earlier versions and like the election never happened – it targets supports for working and poor people for huge cuts to pay for large cuts to income upper-bracket income and business taxpayers. Q.E…wait for it. D.