Middle class

Both Parties Lack Middle-Class Confidence

Political pundits have spun a lot of spitballs to explain voter anger in this year’s presidential election. The Pew Research Center may have the answer in data that shows voters question both political parties' commitment to rescue America’s struggling middle class.

Rejection of “status quo” solutions and “establishment” economics by large blocs of voters in the Republican and Democratic parties have been attributed to concerns about job security, inability to put aside money for retirement and rising college student debt.

Pew Research findings suggest another reason – "62 percent of Americans say the federal government does not do enough for middle-class people.” That view, Pew says, has persisted since 2011, which may account for the simmering resentment and political disenchantment evident on the campaign trail.

Respondents to the Pew poll conducted in early December say Republicans tilt more toward the rich and Democrats care for the poor, but they don’t see much difference in Republican and Democratic policies toward the middle class.

That lukewarm assessment of both parties parallels the decline over the last four decades of middle-income Americans as a percentage of the population along with a shift of aggregate household income to upper-income families.

Providing more help to the middle class isn’t just a middle-class concern. It is a view shared by older people, children and poor people. The only cohort that disagrees, according to the poll, are wealthy people who believe the middle class gets too much help.

Seventy-seven percent of Democrats and 61 percent of non-aligned voters believe wealthy people get too much help from the federal government, as do 44 percent of Republicans.

As the Democratic and GOP presidential races tighten heading into New Hampshire next week, it is worth noting that nominees who don’t win on the first ballot of their party convention are more likely to lose the general election.

As the Democratic and GOP presidential races tighten heading into New Hampshire next week, it is worth noting that nominees who don’t win on the first ballot of their party convention are more likely to lose the general election.

Self-assessments within economic classes have generally improved as the United States has climbed out of economic recession. People who identify as part of the middle class and say they are in financially good shape has ticked up 12 percent over a similar financial self-assessment in 2011.

Despite improving economic conditions, 48 percent of the middle class describes themselves as “staying even” and 43 percent say they are “falling behind.” Lower-income Americans have a gloomier outlook, with 66 percent feeling they are “falling behind.”

As presidential campaigns tighten as they head into next week’s New Hampshire primary, Pew Research offers another cheery note – nominees who fail to win on the first ballot in their party conventions are more likely to lose the general election. Pew reached that conclusion by looking at presidential elections between 1868 and 1984.

Re-imagining 21st Century Labor Unions

Labor unions have seen their membership and political influence wane as corporate influences have swelled, leading to provocative ideas for a new type of union that represents the political interests of a community of workers.Labor Day was celebrated by the usual picnics and political speeches. But it also drew two intriguing op-eds that pointed to a broader and different role for labor unions in the quest to retain a working middle class in America. 

Both opinion pieces called for labor organizations that extend beyond bargaining for wages and benefits. They urged community-based organizations that would serve as the political voice for low- and middle-class workers as a counterbalance to well-heeled corporate influences in politics and governance.

"The union movement is not going to rebuild the middle class in the 21st century with a system of labor laws that were designed for factory worker in the 1930s and copied for government workers in the 1970s," wrote Tim Nesbitt, a former president of the Oregon AFL-CIO and senior advisers to Governors Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhaber.

In his op-ed appearing in The Oregon, Nesbitt said, "Today's realities require looking beyond the traditional bargaining units composed of jobs of a single employer at one or more work sites, which are no longer effective for advancing the interests of large numbers of workers in the job churn of the private sector."

Myths about the Middle Class

Reports of the death of the American middle class may be exaggerated and hope for its survival and success may lie in improved education and direct links to economic growth.As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stalk middle class voters, a University of Arizona sociology professor offers some hints of where to look and what to expect.

In a piece published last week by The Washington Post, Lane Kenworthy says — contrary to political rhetoric — America's middle class is better off today, not just financially, but also in terms of enhanced quality of life.

"Income changes alone don't capture the enhanced quality of life that stems from greater access to information and entertainment through personal computers, smartphones, the Internet and cable TV, advanced in medical care such as MRIs and surgical techniques and more choices for all kinds goods and services," he wrote.

Kenworthy dispelled what he called the myth about economic growth benefitting the middle class. "Sadly, that's wishful thinking," he said. 

"Since the 1970s, the American economy has continued to grow fairly quickly, yet the middle class has seen a relatively small gain in income," Kenworthy noted. "Between 1979 and 2007, two peaks in the business cycle, the country's per capita GDP increased by 50 percent. During that same period, the average income of the middle three-fifths of households rose by less than 30 percent."