Economists have said that the Great Recession, the worst economic crisis to grip the U.S. since the Great Depression eight decades earlier, ended just three years ago. But if you ask most middle class families, they would tell you that they haven’t seen any difference.
Mind you that these are folks who are fortunate to have jobs in this sluggish economy, but as a report issued last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center indicated, “mean family incomes” since 2000 have “declined for Americans in all income tiers” for the first time in the post-World War II era.
Today’s families are facing an especially great economic challenge: managing higher costs for everything—from groceries to gas to housing—while making the same or less income than in previous years. This, combined with the outsourcing of valued jobs in recent decades, has caused the middle class in America to shrink significantly.
The Pew Report refers to the problems experienced by the middle class since 2000 as “the lost decade,” but in truth, it is the culmination of bad economic policies enacted by both the public and private sectors in this country over the last two generations.
First, there was the loss of those valuable industrial and manufacturing jobs in this country which were shipped overseas by companies seeking lower labor costs and higher profits. Products became cheaper for American consumers in the near term, so the loss of these jobs was all but ignored.
Over the past 20 years, it has been reported that 6.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost in this country. They were found, of course, thousands of miles overseas in places like China and India, which—as a result—elevated their economic status while knocking ours down a few pegs.
The years went on and more jobs fled, and suddenly Americans have come to realize what a Faustian bargain this outsourcing had become. Without those good jobs, it’s becoming harder and harder for Americans to afford even the cheapest of goods.
As the middle class in this country were being sold a bill of goods in the form of cheaper products, they were also being sold out by two powerful entities: corporate leaders, whose hunger for infinite profits sent them looking overseas for cheap labor; and the government, which looked other way and/or encouraged companies to do as they please with the jobs that once were the backbone of the American economy.
Unions which represented these workers, meanwhile, didn’t do nearly enough to stop these jobs from being lost. In the end, they and their vanishing membership were kept alive largely through Executive Order 10988, signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, which allowed government workers the right to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. But that provision didn’t address job losses in the private sector.
Elected officials and business leaders have said that education is the way out of poverty, and billions have been spent to boost the nation’s schools and on job retraining programs. Dropout rates, however, remain high, and even college graduates are having a hard time finding work in an economy with few jobs available.
We are in “a fine mess,” as Oliver Hardy once said. It may take decades to reverse the damage failed economic policies have reaped on our country. But it seems that no one in the public or private sector is particularly interested in fixing what ails the American middle class.
Let’s hope we figure our way out of this economic malaise before any more damage is done.