The estimated reading time for this post is 17 Minutes
Professor John Doe
3 April 2018
Is it true that the middle class in the United States is disappearing? If indeed there is a decline in this category of citizens, what are the reasons behind it? Initial signs of the decline of the American middle class became conspicuous during the second term of George W. Bush. It is the juncture at which the middle class citizens stopped believing in the American Dream. The middle class plunged into an economic decline which has been relatively hard to get out of. The nation slowly transcended into an inequality pattern with the gap between by the rich and the poor widening. The decline of the middle class was further accentuated by the global economic recession which plagued the entire globe in 2008. However, the decline of the middle class cannot just be tied down to these factors. The decline has rather been as a result of collective factors that are very dynamic.
This essay seeks to examine some these collective factors or reasons that have contributed or led to the shrinkage of the middle class community in the United States. The essay aims to show that the middle class in the United States is disappearing because of the government’s failure to invest on the prosperity of the country’s citizens which has led to social security failure.
One of the reasons why the middle class society is disappearing is because most people in America are ignorant when it comes to social classes. This is according to Mantisios in his article “Class in America.” According to him, these people fail to realize that the class that an individual is placed in significantly affects their lives (Mantisios 125). He gives four commonly held beliefs and completely refutes them.
First, he argues that contrary to popular belief, social classes indeed exist in America and affect everyone’s daily life. Secondly he argues that America is not a middle class nation and that pronounced economic disparities are a reality including poverty. Thirdly he refutes the notion that the entire American nation is moving up the economic and social ladder and argues that prosperity that is achievable by everyone (Mantisios 126-128). Finally, he refutes the idea that “everyone has an equal chance to succeed” (Mantisios 129). In this sense Mantisios seems to be making fun of the idea that it is possible for everyone to become a millionaire as long as virtues of sacrifice, hard work and persistence are among the qualities of each individual. Mantisios uses staunch statistics and examples to support his arguments.
For instance he shows that 6% of the country’s capital is essentially by about 60% of the nation’s population. He also shows how the middle class is earnings progressively dropped from 1979 to 2000 unlike the upper class whose earnings actually expanded. In addition, he refers to the decline of the share of net worth witnessed by about 80% of the general public that actually occurred in 1990’s, decade that was actually characterized by global economic prosperity. The author argues that some of the trends experienced are attributable to the government’s failure to avail avenues for economic prosperity for its citizens (Mantsios 126). The facts shown by Mantsios therefore help to dispel the myth of classes in the American society and the statistics given by him indeed shows that the middle class in America is diminishing due to both government’s as well as the society’s failure.
The society has made it hard for the poor or the middle class to climb the social ladder. This is the argument brought forward by Horatio Alger in his article “Ragged Dick” (20). It is apparent that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening day in day out. Subsequently the middle class is shrinking, a signal that this gap is widening. According to statistics in 2011 in the United States by CBO, 1% of households who constitute the high and mighty increased their earnings after income transfers and federal taxes by 275% since the year 1979.
On the other hand, the middle class increased their earnings by 40% within the same period. These statistics paint a clear picture of where we are positioned in terms of the income disparity between the rich and the poor. “Ragged Dick,” is an article that tries to explore the reasons for this long-established gap between the rich and the poor. Using the life of Dick, this article gives an in-depth look at the early life of Dick and the struggles or hurdles he had to go through in order to become a rich and respectable personality. As seen from the excerpt, the rich have an insecure feeling when surrounded by the poor. The poor in many times have ended up behind bars out of mere accusations by the rich that in many times are based on baseless suspicions.
For instance, there is scene where Dick alongside with his friends decided to go to central park and seats next to a rich middle-aged woman. The presence of these boys is a big threat t to this lady and when she misses her purse she instructs conductor to search the boys. However, the purse was found but not with the boys. This scene builds a clear picture of how the rich through such suspicions may victimize the poor. With this kind of attitude towards the poor by the rich, it becomes very hard for the poor to climb up the social ladder. Nevertheless, through hard work and honesty, Dick is able to make it in life. Through the assistance of the rich who were impressed by his character, Dick was able to change his life. At this point, another reason why the poor will find it hard to climb the social ladder is presented. Were it not for the man who handpicked Dick from the streets, Dick would not have made his life better.
Therefore it seemingly appears that it is only through the mercy of the rich that the poor can climb the social ladder. In the absence of this mercy, the middle class continues diminishing (Alger 25). As seen in the article, Dick is struggling to get educated. He lost his parents when he was very young and since then streets became his home. The role of the government in exacerbating conditions from the poor comes in.
A good government is a government that offers equal opportunity to all with no regard to race, color or gender. However, the government has failed the street boys such as Dick. Dick is a bright, honest and determined boy. All what he needed to make life better was education. However, the government seemingly turns a blind eye towards the street boys. Without facilities such as children’s homes, and mechanisms to help children from the poor to get equal education opportunities as the poor, the rich will continue to amass wealth at the expense of the poor and the gap between the two will increase and consequently, the middle class will continue diminishing.
Beyond just merit, other parameters of success in the society that include race, social status, family bonds and connections and if the interplay between them is not adequate, it may lead to the decline of one social class such as the middle class. Similarly, issues like the identification of obstructions of racial discrimination have a great influence on the success that an individual can attain which would enable them rise on the social class order. Dalton, while drawing his analysis from Horatio Alger’s ideas, realizes the role that the environment around which an individual grow influences their chances of achieving success in life (226).
Drawing his argument from studies by Shelley Taylor, in which the main idea is that optimistic attitudes increase the possibility of success, he does suggest that illusions are not the only moral factors that can lead to prosperity. In this case, someone born in a wealthy environment has a higher chance of achieving success in life while someone else born in a poor environment will without doubt be restricted in terms of their aspirations and opportunities available. Consequently, the middle class slips further into poverty as the potential of the present middle class rising towards upper class become less probable under the control of existing social orders. The failure by the authorities to identify the limiting factors of success and seal them accordingly has continuously reared its ugly consequences. The rich become richer and the poor become more strained (Dalton 229).
This worsening situation of the middle class does not only affect their financial status but also does also has an influence on an individual’s lifestyle, consumerism attitude, material attainment abilities and their physical and mental well being. Infant mortality rates, eye and ear disease incidences, lack of proper diet, diabetes, mental illnesses, heart attack rates, lower life expectancy are some of the issues that are associated with the lower class. There effect is disastrous. Issues such as disease incidences place a strain on the finances or incomes of this social class.
In effect, what would have been used as investment capital is channeled back to maintaining a decent life which is becoming harder and harder to achieve especially considering the global and local economy strain in the last decade. As Mantsios asserts, the lower class will initially have to struggle to survive amidst the unfavorable consumer products and service environment and then later aspire moving towards the upper class (127). It is on this struggle for survival that the middle class realize that poverty is an inequality in itself and there is a system failure rather than just individual failures that have contributed to the ever widening gap between the lower and upper class.
To make this clearer, Mantsios refers to the attainment of educational advances and achievements and argues that class may have its impact on how those two are achieved (129). He notes that despite the efforts to make educational opportunities equal, there are factors that make the children from upper class society achieve better grades than their counterparts from lower class (Mantsios 129-130). It is not necessarily all about intelligence levels but issues such as technology advancements whose effect on education today cannot be ignored. Children who hail from upper class society have early exposure to advances in technology and this gives them an advantage of high skills and experience in technology related issues. Those who hail from the middle class will lag behind in these issues of technology and other emerging trends that would have give them an upper hand in the job market.
The impact is that children from upper class society will be employed at the expense of those from lower class society. This will render them unemployed for so long a time before they achieve credentials that would endear them to the job market (D’Agostino 65). There has been little effort by the government to ensure equity in emerging trends such as technology advancements in education and other service sectors.
The fight against terrorism has had its impacts on the economy and more specifically on the middle class who are very sensitive to economy variations with time. The war based economy has undermined the country’s capacity to create prosperity for ordinary people. D’Agostino states that this strain has meant that, the personal savings of the ordinary people have continuously declined over the last 30 years (74). This has adversely affected their ability to invest which would have enabled them rise through the social class order. On the other hand, infiltration of foreign investors into the economy has been blamed by business leaders as offering unhealthy competition without realizing that concentration on fighting terrorism has de-industrialized the countries. Foreign investors have come in as a necessity not as a choice. On the other hand, the economic policies of the USA have been controlled by the economic interests of the powerful and military purposes. The negligence of the ordinary people has gradually destroyed the middle class and this class their right to maintain a quality life (D’Agostino 120).
The views of D’Agostino and Dalton are complementary of each other and the underlying point from the two authors is that the primary reason for the shrinkage of the American middle class is due to the impossibility of movement up the success ladder for everybody. This impossibility is directly attributable to government’s failure and one example given is the fact that the federal government which has consistently failed to enact changes in the structure of the economy and in the allocation of public resources.
Another example is the fact the government has forgotten about county development funds initiative whose main target would be the middle class but has rather concentrated on nationwide funds initiative, moist of which are inaccessible to the declining middle class. Dalton particularly explains that America as a nation is sorely responsible for the creation of inequality through the enactment of laws that have weakened unions and also limited the minimum wage to its lowest level since the 1950’s (236). These laws have essentially allowed C.E.O’s to get most of the business pie. Underinvestment is education, high employee taxation and foreign instead of domestic investments has led to the shrinkage of the middle class. If immediate steps are not taken, it is very likely that this decline will become even more pronounced in the future.
Policies surrounding social security have further widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and that way making it very hard for people to climb the social ladder. This is an argument that is brought forth by Santow and Santow in Social Security and The Middle Class Squeeze. Privatizations of social security by the government has posed a major challenge to the middle class and the poor (Santow and Santow 11). It was expected that through capitalism and democracy, every person will be afforded a fair chance to climb up the social ladder.
However, capitalism as it stands at the moment; it is only the rich who benefit from the economic ideology. Looking at how the government handles matters such as the Medicare, medical care and social security, the income and class disparity is set to widen more. Transfer of social security responsibilities from the hands of the government to private investors has cut the link between the citizens and its government. A government that has lost contact with its people leaves the poor on the mercy of the rich. Loss of contact between citizens and government leads to inequitable distribution of resources.
As it stands, the payroll taxes are 29% of the income, a total contrast of the 1950s where payroll taxes were only 5% of the income (Santow and Santow 39). This has transfer economic responsibility from the rich to the poor. This has subsequently shrunk the income of the middle class and by this, making it very hard for them to climb up the social ladder (Santow and Santow 42).
Moreover, medical care and Medicaid, which are vital aspects of social security, are not accorded all the due gravity. These social security mechanisms do not have the interests of the poor at heart. This is evident since despite their implementation, there are a significant number of US citizens who cannot afford medical care. Not unless, social security is made affordable to the poor and middle class, the disparity is set to become wider with every dawn.
Glorification of the upper class by the media that has created a false notion and belief among the society that everyone is capable of moving up the social or economical ladder In his article “Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America,” Kendall states that the media has confused the society about the decline in the middle class society (258). Kendall uses several examples to drive through his point. First, the media has a habit of presenting the wealthy and famous people with a relatively negative approach while at the same time glorifying the material assets as well as the standards of living of the powerful upper class (260).
Kendall states that, “the media do not simply mirror society; rather, they help to shape it and to create cultural perceptions” (265). He further explains that “Reality shows like American Idol, The Billionaire, For Love or Money and the Apprentice essentially seems to suggest that it is possible for everyone to move up the social and economic ladder” (267). Kendall also states that the working class is more or less presented in the media as extremely poor. However, the issues affecting the middle class such as low wages, unemployment, dangerous working conditions and lack of benefits are not adequately presented in the media.
In fact, these problems are presented are considered boring. It is only the unique cases that are presented, for example, where the safety or health of a particular worker has been abused by his manger. Such unique case may sometimes find their way to the news (Kendall 270). In addition, Kendall argues that “equality does not exist in contemporary society but media audiences are generally encouraged to view themselves as possessing equal rights to purchase items that may somehow make them equal” (270).
This has significantly shaped the modern opinion of people of how life should essentially be lived, that is in a shallow materialistic manner. Consequently, the middle class has become misguided and instead of taking up initiatives to improve their economic state and well being, they have tried to emulate their upper calls counterparts all to no avail. Adopting materialistic tendencies means that they have essentially pumped funds that they would have used to improve themselves into irrelevant things. This has directly translated into shrinkage of the middle class, and this is sense, it appears as if it something that they have brought onto themselves. The government also seems to have fallen victim to this inaccurate portrayal by the media because they have failed to come with strategies designed to stimulate the prosperity of the entire nation. This has then resulted in further decline of the media.
From all of the arguments above, it is very clear that the economic disparity is widening in America daily and the middle class is shrinking and declining at an alarming rate as the gap between the rich and the poor becomes more and more pronounced. The major reason for this is because of the government’s failure to invest on the prosperity of the country’s citizens which has led to social security failure. Previously the middle class acted as a buffer region between the rich and the poor. It was common for people in the lower class to aspire to jump into the middle class where they then knew that it was possible for them to progressively build their lives and eventually make it to the upper class.
However, as shown by most of the authors of the articles explored above, this is no longer the trend. It has virtually become impossible to move from one level to another. Therefore instead of the middle class progressing, it has declined towards the lower class.
A large chunk of this trend is directly blamable to the government which in spite for various warning signs regarding the decline of the middle class has failed to avail channels rectify this condition. The government has essentially failed to invest in the prosperity of its citizens as a result; the society’s social status has degraded. Unless strategies are initiated immediately, it will only get worse.
Alger, H.“Ragged Dick.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Edited by Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen and Bonnie Lisle. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 9th ed., 2013, pp. 15-29.
Dalton, L., H.“Horatio Alger.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Edited by Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen and Bonnie Lisle. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 9th ed., 2013, pp. 224-238.
D’Agostino, Brian. The Middle Class Fights Back: How Progressive Movements Can Restore Democracy in America (New Trends and Ideas in American Politics). Praeger Publishers, 2012.
Kendall, E., D. “Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth And Poverty in America.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Edited by Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen and Bonnie Lisle. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 9th ed., 2013, pp. 256-271.
Mantsios, G. “Class in America-2009.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Edited by Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen and Bonnie Lisle. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 9th ed., 2013, pp. 125-139.
Santow, Leonard Jay and Mark E. Santow. Social Security and the Middle-Class Squeeze. Praeger Publishers, 2005.
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