Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Signs Of A Middle-Class Collapse

By Isaiah J. Poole

August 15th, 2008 - 6:24am ET

A hearing in late July on the middle-class squeeze by the congressional Joint Economic Committee did not get much attention at the time, but a warning at that hearing by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that what's happening to the middle class is not just a squeeze but a "collapse" is resonating in the wake of this week's bad economic news.

Sanders is arguing for "bold and aggressive" measures to address that collapse in an interview on "Meet the Bloggers," the weekly Brave New Foundation program which will stream live at 1 p.m. today. I will be featured on the program with Amanda Logan at the Center for American Progress.

Thursday's reports on consumer inflation and unemployment claims reveal the latest blows delivered to working-class families by the current economic downturn. Consumer prices going up at an annual rate of 5.6 percent last month, far above the 3.1 percent average increase in income. At the same time, the number of people receiving unemployment claims is 3.42 million, the highest level in almost five years.

With these trends, the legacy of Bushonomics is poised to add one more item to its legacy: "stagflation," the combination of a stagnant economy and rising unemployment that had conservatives in the late 1970s indicting President Jimmy Carter and Democrats in Congress as failures on the economy.

The difference between the 1970s and today is that families earning five-figure salaries enter this dangerous economic period facing record economic disparity.

"I do think this is one of the most underreported issues of the past 10 years," Sanders told the Joint Economic Committee on July 24. "The reality is that in many respects the middle class of this country is collapsing. The vast majority of our people have seen a decline in their standard of living," while those at the top of the income ladder are beneficiaries of a wealth gap between the very rich and the middle class that has not been seen since the late 1920s.

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Elizabeth Warren, a Leo Gottlieb professor of law at Harvard Law School, said that while inflation-adjusted median household income has declined by $1,175 since 2000, basic expenses for average families have increased by more than $4,600.

"Seven years of flat or declining wages, seven years of increasing costs, and seven year of mounting debts have placed unprecedented stress on the ordinary families. By every critical financial measure, these families are losing ground. Without changes in critical economic policies, the strong middle class that has been the backbone of the American economy and the American democracy is in jeopardy," she testified.

The case keeps getting stronger for a new, bold change in economic policy explicitly designed to help working-class families regain their footing. Sanders will outline his ideas on the Meet the Bloggers program, which will be available for on-demand viewing after the live streaming.

My response:

Let's get something straight...

By Alan Maki | August 17th, 2008 - 1:32pm GMT

Are we talking about the "middle class" or the "working class?

These are two different classes.

You seem to insinuate that "working class" people reach "middle class" status when their incomes rise to a certain level. This simply is not true.

However, for the sake of argument, giving you the benefit of doubt, what is the dollar figure at which a "working class" family becomes "middle class" based upon actual "cost of living factors" because this is what determines "standard of living," not some very abstract claim to being "middle class."

I think you are evading a very important and fundamental concept here... what is at issue is what kind of income does it take for working class families to live above the poverty line... in other words, are only some working class families entitled to be able to afford the necessities of life while others are not; and, thus, we consider those working class families with incomes to provide the necessities of life, "middle class?"

This is a no win argument about "saving the middle class."

The fight needing to be waged is for a minimum wage that is truly a real living wage where one person in a four-person household can work 40 hours a week and the family has the necessities of life... as should be scientifically defined by the United States Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics in league with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This pitting worker against worker has got to end; it is a no win situation for the entire working class because under this rotten economic system of capitalism the majority of the working class is always living in poverty; and the tendency will always be towards dragging all workers' standard of living down.

In the final analysis we are talking about: the "Standard of Living" of the working class; and rising the entire working class up from poverty.

This makes it absolutely essential that progressives fight for a minimum wage that is based on the scientific calculations of what is a real living annual income.

Depending on the performance of the economy considering ALL cost of living factors which can now be scientifically calculated, according to Alan Greenspan, on a weekly basis, the minimum wage should be legislatively tied to these factors--- all workers should be brought up from poverty; and, as progressives, we should only be concerned with bringing those on the bottom up first... not in maintaining some kind of undefined "middle class" status for anyone.

Workers create all wealth with some substantial help from Mother Nature--- who isn't doing much better than the working class, which no one should find surprising given the greedy corporate drive for maximum profits ... after over two-hundred years of capitalist accumulation of this wealth I think it is time to change things.

Casino workers need two jobs; one job going in debt trying to support a family; another job to pay for gas to get to the first job... I imagine if the facts be told, this is the same situation most working class folks find themselves in... and this is what has to change.

Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council