Middle Class in Big Trouble

A new study titled Growth in the Residential Segregation of Families by Income 1970-2009 by Stanford University researchers throws harsh light on a disturbing phenomenon — the decline of the American Middle Class.

Over the last four decades, the study finds, the number of high and low income neighborhoods have both increased, while “mixed income neighborhoods have grown rarer.” Since 1970, in fact, “the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods dropped from 65 percent to 44 percent.”

A New York Times story highlighting the study sums it up:

Much of the shift is the result of changing income structure in the United States. Part of the country’s middle class has slipped to the lower rungs of the income ladder as manufacturing and other middle-class jobs have dwindled, while the wealthy receive a bigger portion of the income pie. Put simply, there are fewer people in the middle.

The Times, of course, ties all of this into the demands/grievances of the Occupy Wall Street movement: “The study comes at a time of growing concern about inequality and an ever-louder partisan debate over whether it matters.”

But as much as lefties want to blame this disturbing trend on the evils of capitalism, in fact Big Government is a big culprit. Why has manufacturing declined in the U.S.? Because labor and environmental regulations — both payoffs to Democrat Party constituents — have made it virtually impossible to profitably manufacture in America, forcing companies to ship production to low tax, low regulation areas overseas.

Then there is the federal government’s inept education establishment (wholly bought and owned by the teachers’ unions, by the way), which has utterly failed to prepare students for the needs of the high-tech global labor market. The late Steve Jobs, according to the Wall Street Journal, once complained to President Obama himself “that Apple employs 700,000 factory workers in China because it can’t find the 30,000 engineers in the U.S. that it needs on site at its plants.”

Why does all of this matter? The middle class has often been the primary stabilizing influence in modern societies. In fact, the reason America has largely been untouched by the sort of large-scale violence and social unrest common in Europe has been its large and healthy middle class. In the 2008 tome Globalization from the Bottom Up:  A Blueprint for Modern Capitalism, author A. Coskun Samli warns of the dangers of a shrinking middle class:

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, the lack of a middle class as a buffer between the two becomes more serious. Without such a stabilizing factor, it is easy for some variation of class warfare to commence…emergence and maintenance of a middle class is not just a nice and desirable development. It is a must if societies, and indeed the world desire to have stability.

Stability in the West may be desired, but its increasingly fragile thanks to government policies that have waged war on the middle class. For proof, look no further than this lead sentence in a November 17th Sky News story: “Violence has broken out in Athens, New York and across Italy as anger caused by economic strife boils over on the streets.”

It is only the beginning, I’m afraid.