Middle-class America has challenges ahead


Sense of well-being has eroded and families, children bear the brunt


America’s middle class is facing big challenges and shrinking as it does so. That was a finding of the Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization.

The finding listed seven reasons to worry as a part of its “Future of the Middle Class” initiative. These issues affect far more than pocketbooks — implications for families are many.

1 - Stagnant incomes. Between 1979 and 2014, middle class incomes rose an average of 28 percent. Those in the top 20 percent averaged a 94 percent increase. The very well off, those in the top 0.1 percent of earners, saw their share of wealth rise from 7 percent in 1978 to 22 percent of all wealth by 2012.

2 - Wages for those at the bottom of the wage and skill levels have declined and even the benefit of the “college degree premium” has declined significantly. (Though women’s wages are catching up somewhat.)

3 - Middle class children’s prospects are declining. In 1940, there was a 90 percent chance a 30-year-old would earn more than his parents. By the 1980s, that had declined to 50 percent.

4 - Incomes diverge by race. The good news is that black household incomes have increased significantly since 1975. The bad news is the “gap” between white, Hispanic and black households has stayed relatively constant.

5 - Place matters. As populations concentrate around urban areas, rural America loses out on opportunity. Of course, Gillespie County is graced by an amazing amount of tourism, but that’s not the case in most rural areas. There, the struggle is real to attract business, attain education opportunities and find good employment.

6 - Sense of well-being has eroded. A study done in part by The Wall Street Journal cites that 75 percent of Americans now think their children’s generation will not be as well off as their own. While some groups are optimistic (usually dependent on income level), middle-class whites’ life expectancy has dropped in recent years, due in large part to drug and alcohol abuse.

7 - Two-income families is the norm. Virtually all family economic improvements since 1970 have been due to women entering the workplace. Family incomes have naturally improved, but the level of women in the workforce has leveled off. The rate of single-parent families increased dramatically, from less than 10 percent in 1950 to nearly 1 in 3 families today.

We write this not to diminish recent economic gains or cheer one political party’s agenda over another. We write to raise awareness of this underlying trend that, in the long term, is bad for the country.

In Gillespie County, it is easy to see only that which shines. But not every place has Gillespie’s good fortune. Around the nation, a weaker middle class will affect the economy negatively. And as cited above, its effects on families are far-reaching and consequential to future generations.

It’s something to think about. – K.E.C.