What Happened to the Middle Class?

Americans had it so much better in the 1950s, right?

A Balloon Juice emailer roughly a decade my senior observes that his father, a professor at a Catholic college near Dayton, Ohio managed to support a family in relative luxury:

My Mother didn’t have to work outside the house. She stayed home and raised 5 kids.

We lived in a nice house in a nice suburb – Kettering Ohio – which could have been the setting for the Brady Bunch

All 5 kids went to Catholic (private) grade and High School

All 5 kids went to College (although my Father was a prof, we only got a 50% discount at that private University, which made the tuition equal to Ohio State or any other in-state school)

None of us had to take out a student loan to pay for college.

My parents NEVER refinanced their house.

We took a family vacation every Summer.

If you heard of a family doing all that today on one income, how much would you guess the solo wage earner was making? Quite a bit more than my Father’s income, adjusted to today!

What changed?

Our expectations, mostly. Indeed, James Hanley (ia Jason Kuznicki) argues that it’s quite possible today to “live a 1950s middle class lifestyle while working part-time at contemporary American wages.”

For example, in the 1950s, a middle class lifestyle meant a window air conditioner and some fans to move the air around; today it means central air conditioning. Back then a single car family was middle class; today most middle class families are two car families. A single television set was sufficient to be middle class back then; today-even though televisions are much cheaper-most middle class families have multiple televisions, many pay extra for a television that’s much larger than what their (grand)parents had, and most pay extra-sometimes a lot extra-for cable or satellite (i.e., once upon a time three free channels was middle class; now 100 pay channels is middle class). They didn’t pay for microwaves and computers (and internet access) in the 1950s, while we do now. We also eat out a lot more today than they did back then. One of the biggest changes is the size of American homes. In the 1950s, the average home size was just under 1,000 square feet; today it’s over 2,300 square feet. As importantly, a house back then most often had a single bathroom; now homes regularly have 2 1/2 baths or more.

He documents these points with links and analysis and it passes my own smell test. Indeed, growing up in the 1970s, my dad  managed to keep us in a lower middle class lifestyle on the income of an Army sergeant first class–in the days before the Reagan pay hikes for soldiers boosted senior noncoms well into the middle class.  But, yes, we had a smallish house, a single car, a single TV, no cable or satellite, no microwave oven, and very seldom ate in restaurants.

For that matter, college professors continue to make a perfectly decent living.  It would in fact be quite realistic for the modern version of the emailer’s father to be able to have a house in the suburbs, send his kids to decent state school, and take modest annual vacations. Indeed, I know of college professors who do those very things! Indeed, most of them can afford to have people clean their house, mow their lawns, go out to decent restaurants, and otherwise live the middle class lifestyle to this very day.

What has indeed changed, aside from a much higher bar for what constitutes a “middle class lifestyle” (which, incidentally, is a very good thing) is that it’s much harder for someone with a high school education or less to do these things. We’ve lost a huge tier of high paying, low-barrier-to-entry jobs to overseas competition, technology, and other factors.

Still, the material life of the average American is doubtless much improved over the course of my lifetime. Things that were the stuff of luxury (massive televisions, video recorders, satellite television, cellular phones, multiple automobiles, personal computers) or science fiction (the Internet, let alone wireless everywhere) in my youth are now considered necessities for all but the very poor.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    20% of the population controls 93% of the wealth, leaving 7% of total wealth for the remaining 80%. Regardless of material standards of living, that strikes me as a signficant power imbalance and a long-term problem.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Alex:

    It says something about the social contract and raises questions about our political system, to be sure. And I’d like to do all manner of things to take government’s thumbs off the scales, since a lot of the concentration is in the form of rent-seeking moreso than lower marginal tax rates.

    Still, the vast middle class is undeniably better off than they were twenty, much less fifty, years ago. It’s those at the bottom that are in some ways worse off.

  3. EJ says:

    the other thing to add in also is retirment and healthcare benifits. Though the health care system is messed up which causes much of the coast increases, health insurance now is just a better product than it was in 1950 because we have so much more technology. Before hand you suffered in pain or died by an ailment that is cured today – so your are essentially getting more healthcare.

    Similarly, lots of familes had pensions, but when you retired at 65 and died at 68, that wasnt a huge monetary value. Now you retire at 65 and live to 85-90. either your pension and/or 401k contrbutions are a much larger benifit. Its just that you are deffering your earnings to future consumption more so than people did in 1950.

  4. anjin-san says:

    The “stuff factor” cannot be overstated. I grew up in a very wealthy area. My dad was a successful attorney. We had a black and white TV & went on camping trips in a station wagon. I got a Beatles record on my birthday and for Christmas.

    We have worked our way into a real cache 22. The economy is now so dependent on consumer spending that if people cut back on buying crap we don’t need, the overall economy will suffer.

  5. Steve says:

    Mr. Knapp,

    I don’t understand the liberal focus on “equality.” I was not born to a wealthy family, but I have achieved modest wealth. How? I married a woman who was not concerned with trappings of wealth. We raised 4 children in a 1,900 square foot home in “flyover” country. We never bought a new car (only used). We saved over 30% of our income every month. We invested our savings in real estate (but not to live in), mutual funds, and side businesses (we worked more than 40 hours a week). Why do you care what I have saved or what wealth I have? It is not hard to do the same thing; just skip the consumer lifestyle until you have the money. If you have a problem with people earning their wealth through dishonest means, I can understand. However, you leave the impression that feel like you deserve the wealth of others just because you “exist.”

  6. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve:

    93% of the total wealth of a nation being concentrated into the hands of 20% of its population is prima facie indicia that government policies lean towards the enabling of rent-seeking and unearned wealth. And money tends to buy both power and influence, meaning that without signficant counterweights, the trend of the wealthy having more money and hence, more power will continue, and will increasingly rig the game so that it stays that way.

    In the United States, we not only face a significant imbalance of wealth, but also high structural barriers to social mobility. In the United States, you are much more likely to remain in the same or lower socioeconomic class you were born in, compared to most of our European peers (except England and France). This combination demonstrates that it’s increasingly the case that in the United States, if you’re wealthy, it’s less likely that you earned that wealth than is the case in other countries.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    In the words of Warren Buffett, “We have class warfare in this country. My class is winning.”

  8. john personna says:

    It only works in “flatland,” those regions that did not get a housing boom. It doesn’t work in LA or OC. Does it really work in Northern VA?

  9. James Joyner says:

    @john personna

    Certainly, a professor a George Mason can afford to lead a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle in Fairfax County. For that matter, a professor at Georgetown or George Washington can do the same in DC, excepting perhaps having to live in a nice townhouse in the city or commute to the suburbs to afford a single family home.

    I’ll have to take your word for SoCal, although I’d be surprised if a professor at UCLA or even one of the Cal State schools couldn’t support their families in a fairly comfortable lifestyle.

    Further, the emailer was talking about life in the Dayton, Ohio suburbs. There were very expensive metro areas even in the 1950s and 1960s, no?

  10. Stan says:

    Back in the 50’s one of my uncles, a very nice man, dismissed talk of poverty in the African-American community by noting how much better African-Americans (not his word) lived in the north than in the south and how much better they lived in the south than in Africa itself. I thought at the time that his argument was bogus, and I feel the same way about JJ’s attempt to palliate American income and wealth inequality. As everybody knows, the median household income in the US has barely increased since 1976, as shown in

    http://www.russellsage.org/research/social-inequality/chartbook/basic-trends/median-wage-by-quintile,

    while upper class incomes have soared. This isn’t due solely to economic factors, since it hasn’t occurred to the same extent in Japan and western Europe. It’s primarily an American phenomenon, and I think it’s due to changing social norms as much as economics. I don’t know whether these changing norms were manufactured in the manner analyzed by Antonio Gramsci. I also don’t know how it plays out. As the upper classes get richer and richer, they acquire more and more control of our political system and we become less and less of a democracy. JJ and the other conservatives who post here don’t seem to mind this. I do.

  11. rodney dill says:

    I think the middle class settled somewhere into the lower third of the upper income quintile

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Stan

    the median household income in the US has barely increased since 1976 . . . while upper class incomes have soared.

    You left out a pretty important modifier: real median wage income. And, it’s true, adjusted for inflation, income has increased only modestly among the bottom four quartiles. But, so what? The post addresses lifestyle, not income. Money is important only insofar as it translates to the ability to buy things.

    As noted in my exchange with Alex above, I’m not indifferent to the inequality issue. But it’s a very separate one. Most Americans live much, much better materially than their generational antecedents.

    As to your nice uncle’s observation that even poor blacks under Jim Crow lived better than their counterparts in Africa, it was almost doubtless true, no? That doesn’t justify Jim Crow, much less slavery, of course.

  13. Ben says:

    All the crap written there about cable, internet and additional tvs and air conditioners is a red herring. All of those things added up are a very small portion of most families’ budgets. The main difference is the cost of houses. I grew up in a 1700 sq ft house and my parents had two cars and multiple tvs. They paid 340 bucks a month for their mortgage. My wife and I have a house about the same size, and pay 5 times that. Even adjusting for inflation, that is what is completely out of whack. And that is why my wife has to work, while my mother didn’t.

  14. TheColourfield says:

    The middle class may have more possessions, but a great deal of that is due to the explosion in debt financing. Almost anyone can get a credit card and during the housing boom there was equity taken out of homes to purchase trips, consumer goods etc.

    Without these “innovations”, those possessions would have been beyond the reach of most. And now that the economy and job market are so terrible consumer demand has slowed.

  15. Steve says:

    Mr. Knapp,

    Your quote, “is prima facie indicia that government policies lean towards the enabling of rent-seeking and unearned wealth”

    I am a simple accountant – my daughter is the lawyer (177/180 on LSAT, 3rd in her class at a top 20 law school, and currently working for a large law firm for more money than I do after a 25 year career), but I see this “prima facie” argument as a lazy way to say, “I don’t have any facts, this just looks bad.” Which government policies? Progressive income tax? Monopolization of education? Crony capitalism (Government Motors, GE and global warming, etc.)? Back in 1976, I made 3.50 an hour pumping gas. Now I make more than that. So what? If you don’t like “rent-seeking,” then diminish the power of government. Otherwise, why would you look to an obviously incompetent government to make things better or even different?

  16. Steven Donegal says:

    Can I just say that having a Blackberry has not improved the quality of my life. That having 100+ cable channels rather than three over the air channels has not improved the quality of my life. I’m pretty sure I could tell you that having a Kindle hasn’t improved the quality of my life but since I refuse to buy one, there is a slight possibility I’m wrong. Now a microwave, I have to admit that’s an improvement, but not enough to offset the damage of the Blackberry. And don’t get me started on iPhones.

  17. george says:

    I agree that ‘normal’ now means having a lot more stuff than it meant back then. For that matter, I was able to live quite comfortably as a grad student on research and teaching assistantships (no loan needed) because of the simple lifestyle that came with being young, healthy, and never at home anyway.

    But still, I couldn’t help but think of Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiresmen” routine when I read the article.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Steven Donegal

    No one’s forcing you to have modern (in)conveniences. I’m betting you could save plenty of money canceling all the subscriptions involved.

    @George

    Yes, there is that.

  19. Bernieyeball says:

    A male relative of mine (Cuz) lives in SoCal. He settled there 30 years ago in his late 20’s. His second wife and he bought a brand new house just before real estate took off and crash landed.
    Though not a college grad Cuz has been able to make a nice living as an unlicensed civil engineer the past 3 decades in Los Angeles and Riverside Counties. Cuz’s gravy train came off the tracks in the Fall of ’08. Since then he has worked a total of a few weeks. His wife has held a part time job most of those 30 or so months but that’s the only earned income they have had. Unemployment insurance has now run out for Cuz. I don’t know quite how it worked but somehow he managed to draw more than 99 weeks but there is no more.
    Last year when he filed his 2009 Federal Income Tax jointly with his wife they somehow got a refund of $6000! HUH?! He hadn’t worked a lick for 12 months!
    Earlier in ’09 he had developed a serious medical condition. Since he could not afford health insurance he put off going to the ER till it nearly killed him. A week in the hospital and he had nightmares about losing what little reserves he had left. He applied to the appropriate gov’t agencies and was informed his assets disqualified him for assistance. BUT they said…walk down the hall to that window over there and see if that Private Charity can help you out! They DID!! For a few hundred dollars Cuz was relieved of 25 or 30K in medical bills.
    The kicker of course is that had Cuz known beforehand of this help he would have gone to the doctor earlier possibly avoiding a lengthy hospital stay and so much expense. Not to mention a near death experience.
    Somehow through all this he paid alimony to his first wife and hires a guy to mow his lawn!
    There are tens of millions of stories about the middle class lifestyle in the USA. This is just one of them.

  20. Trumwill says:

    It’s really hard to have this conversation without giving due hat-tipping to housing and health care. The cost of those two has gone up monstrously. Yes, houses have gotten bigger, but to live in a good neighborhood often requires that you live in a bigger house. Neighborhoods with smaller houses tend to either be in shoddier neighborhoods or in urban areas where you don’t realize the cost savings. Some people buy bigger to get bigger houses. Others buy bigger because the people they want to live around buy bigger houses.

    (The last time I mentioned this, Mr Hanley accused me of bigotry. But this is as true in the lilly-white rural west as it is everywhere else I have lived. Buying a comparatively inexpensive house does not grant you the good schools and positive neighborhood atmosphere it used to. Nowhere I have lived, anyway.)

    And as for health care, that’s gotten better in many ways as well. But as far as I know you can’t buy 1950’s health care at 1950’s prices. It’s another collective action issue, where the decisions of others make your options today different than they were back then.

  21. M1EK says:

    Most middle-class families don’t have the luxury of CHOOSING to have just one car – they HAVE to have a car per adult (and maybe even for a teenager) – we’ve regulated, subsidized, and developed ourselves into a corner where cars are now a necessity almost everywhere, period, end of story.

  22. M1EK says:

    And cars are actually the #1 cost right behind housing for most folks; so it’s not like central air.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @M1EK

    Cars were a necessity when I was growing up, too. What would happen is that, on days my mom needed the car, she’d ride in to work with Dad, drive the car home, and pick him up after work.

  24. mantis says:

    What would happen is that, on days my mom needed the car, she’d ride in to work with Dad, drive the car home, and pick him up after work.

    Another thing that was different back then, for some at least. She didn’t drive him to work. He drove, and she took the car back. Same with my parents.

  25. Ben Wolf says:

    Government and industry have worked hand in hand to outsource manufacturing and financialize the country. The end result has been hollowing out of the U.S. economy. We simply don’t employ people in making much of anything other than derivatives and fraudulent loans.

    Oh, it worked well for a while as the shipping of jobs overseas produced what seemed to be record profits and material abundance. Of course we never bothered to think about what would happen once the people whose jobs were lost no longer had the necessary income to sustain a consumer economy.

    When the Masters of the Universe realized they’d torpedoed the same middle class which had powered economic growth for forty years they papered the problem over with cheap credit, which we were then encouraged by both industry and politicians to max out.

    Now we don’t even bother to conceal the process of wealth extraction by our billionaire betters. We simply force the taxpayer to loan money to Wall Street at 0% interest, then force the taxpayer to borrow that same money back at 2-4%.

    We enabled large trading companies like Goldman Sachs to flash trade, thereby extracting additional wealth from the little guy who can’t possibly match the speed of the big banks’ computers. Over 75% of stocks are held for less than 12 seconds in this country because high frequency trading allows the big banks to shave a tenth of a penny from each of those billions of stocks traded. That’s not directing capital flows to where they are most needed, which is the purpose of stock markets. That’s blatant manipulation driving up trading costs and reducing available capital.

    We’ve legalized looting by the financial industry and it behaves like a vacuum machine sucking as much wealth out of the economy as it can get its Hooverized Robo-tentacles around.

  26. spencer says:

    Your argument is a strawman.

    No one, I repeat NO ONE, argues that the data shows that Americans had a higher standard of living in the 1950s than now.

    The correct argument is that the improvement in the standard of living has slowed dramatically in recent decades. From the end of WW II to the 1970s per capita real GDP or real income grew at about a 2% to 3% average rate. Since the 1970s these measured have grown much slower — under 1% annually and virtually all of that growth was in the 1990s as in the 1980s and 2000s real per capita growth was flat.

    This is a very different argument than the one you are making.

  27. rjs says:

    it’s clear to anyone who grew up in the 50s that if we’ve havent stagnated, we’ve regressed…most in my industrail suburban neighborhood had large families which were able to be supported in reasonable middle class fashion by one breadwinner who worked in the factories…

    almost everyone had large nearly new houses, bought a new car every couple years, had what were then modern applicances & furniture, and floor model TVs & stereos, etc…a few factory workers, including a friend’s father, were able to afford built in swimming pools…

  28. steve says:

    The TV, cable etc. stuff is just a part of the picture as Trumwill noted. Hanley somehow forgot to mention the big ticket items of health care and housing as noted by many. He also forgot to mention that college costs have grown way faster than inflation. So, you can live the same lifestyle if you do not get sick or want to send your kids to college. Food and “stuff” is actually cheaper.

    Another missing part to which some have alluded, is that people used to have defined benefit pensions. You knew what you were going to get when you retired. Lastly, as Reihan and Salam noted in their book, people no longer reliably work at the same job for long periods of time. People are more likely to face longer periods of unemployment.

    Steve

  29. matt b says:

    It’s really hard to have this conversation without giving due hat-tipping to housing and health care. The cost of those two has gone up monstrously.

    Along those lines, I’d be curious to understand three other things mapped onto the above comparative model:

    (1) average household debt rates for middle class families (previously mentioned)
    (2) average household savings rates
    (3) average % of household income that is consumed by existing interest

    Without that sort of data claims that “now” middle class = “then” middle class that don’t go beneath the surface appearances and individual accounts seem like they might be missing the real story.

    The other think I’d love to understand about the rapid growth in the wealth gap is understanding what percentage of that gap has been generated/grown through the creation of new financial products and, in part, relies upon the debt of other classes to sustain it’s existence/continue its growth.

    Individual responsibility cannot be dismissed in this equation. But at the same time, we need to come to terms with / really understand the degree to which one class is sustaining itself by consuming (an)other class(es) — and note that this is a fundamentally different model than either *traditional* manufacturing or services.

  30. James Joyner says:

    @spencer

    I’m arguing that the “growth” standard is the wrong one.

    @rjs

    That’s all still true today. The problem, as I note, is that it’s not true for high school drop-outs and other unskilled laborers.

    @steve

    It’s simply untrue that most people had great pensions and healthcare in the old days.

  31. john personna says:

    @jj, well perhaps you are tying specifically to, what, full professors, at that point?

    People who manage to make full professor might not have fallen out of the middle class. So what about the expanded ranks of part-time instructors? What about the expanded service sector in general?

  32. john personna says:

    (In the other thread I tell people who say public employee unions protect “the middle class” that no, they only protect a priveledged subset. Full professors might be another subset.)

  33. matt b says:

    @ John

    (In the other thread I tell people who say public employee unions protect “the middle class” that no, they only protect a priveledged subset. Full professors might be another subset.)

    Not to be cheeky, but is there a “non” privileged section of the middle class?

    Or rather it seems that, as soon as one looks cross-generationally, it’s all a relative continuum of “less” and “more” privilege (largely assigned by chance). One could argue that everyone needs to work to sustain/grow what you’ve got, but in general outside of arguing for why *you* deserve to be where you are, claims that one group is “privileged” middle class and another group isn’t seems a little disingenuous.

  34. matt b says:

    *sigh* Me fail comment mark-up? That all too possible.

  35. john personna says:

    matt, are we both saying “look for those who have gone missing,” bot those still there.

    “Survivorship bias” is a real thing.

  36. steve says:

    James- I hope I did not imply that people had great health care plans. If I did, I was wrong. However, health care costs have rocketed up. On pensions, their great growth occurred post WWII in the 40s and 50s. You may be right that they were not great plans. I dont know those details.

    http://fc63.com/opub/mlr/1991/12/art3full.pdf

    Steve

  37. sam says:

    @Steve

    “If you don’t like “rent-seeking,” then diminish the power of government.”

    I think the point is that the high-income rent-seekers have sufficient, more than sufficient, power to make sure the government does not change in ways so as to significantly interfere with their rent-seeking, Tea Party aspirations (if there are such in this regard) notwithstanding.

  38. JKB says:

    Firstly, before you start complaining about income, you need to look at total compensation, i.e, income, health, retirement, regulatory requirements, such as increased requirements for workers comp, unemployment insurance, etc.

    Then you need to look into the fact that while autos are relatively more affordable they are now regulatory required to have far more costly features, even seat belts add to the cost. Thankfully, advancements in productivity have kept costs from skyrocketing.

    Then look at the fact you can’t buy 1950s health care, you are regulatory required to buy far more features even after taking into account advances in technology.

    Then let’s look into the fact that the house you purchase today is far more advanced than one in 1950 by regulatory fiat. Plus, increases in services provided have increased property taxes.

    Then we can add in that today people use more energy in commuting, running kids around, traveling further, houses warmer/cooler, heated pools, lighting etc. Again the rapid increase was moderated by productivity and technology improvements. And the “middle class” now go to the Bahamas or Hawaii or Thailand, etc. which wasn’t within middleclass means in 1950 other than maybe a one in a lifetime trip but not annually.

    Before you start lamenting the declines in income look at all the competitors for the cash. Increased benefits, increased regulatory requirements, increased direct taxes, increased fees. Notice the problem? There is pay, there are benefits but by far the largest increase has been in the part of compensation the government takes. A business can only afford a certain amount of cost for labor, that amount is divided into salary, benefits, regulatory insurance, regulatory compliance, taxes and fees.

    When the income tax was enacted, it didn’t seriously damage the top tier. We still see those families with all the cash provided recent generations haven’t wasted it. It did however, mean that the next levels down would no longer be able to accumulate wealth as they did or live as they did since they lost a significant portion of their disposable income to government taking.

    And lets not forget as the wages of the lower tier workers rise, say through minimum wage laws, some things are no longer affordable due to wage inflation.

  39. An Interested Party says:

    However, you leave the impression that feel like you deserve the wealth of others just because you “exist.”

    And you leave the impression that you think that everyone who is wealthy earned all their wealth solely on their own and, therefore, do not deserve to have the government touch any of it…

    As for diminishing government, I’m sure plenty of the wealthy would like that, so long as said diminishment didn’t interfere in anyway with the wealth imbalance in this country…that, of course, would defeat the whole purpose of your argument for diminishing government…

  40. An Interested Party says:

    It did however, mean that the next levels down would no longer be able to accumulate wealth as they did or live as they did since they lost a significant portion of their disposable income to government taking.

    Surely you don’t include the middle class in that group of those on the next levels down?

  41. JKB says:

    Surely you don’t include the middle class in that group of those on the next levels down?

    Well, when the income tax was imposed, I guess you could call those caught by the tax but not wealthy enough to have not impact their lifestyle middle class but it isn’t the people we are discussing from 1950. Maybe the upper middle class or lower upper class.

  42. JKB says:

    We should keep in mind that in 1950 there was a large underclass to provide domestic help, not unlike California today with their illegal population. When this underclass achieved their civil rights and increasing wages, the “middle class” had to start doing their own laundry, cooking and cleaning.

    Now when women went to work, in the middle class by choice, the increased wages lead to increased purchases which led to price inflation due to demand. We are used to it now but the current middle class lifestyle is built on two-incomes and prices, etc. have adjusted accordingly. Total family wages grew faster than productivity and that lead to inflation.

  43. Right on cue in the first comment Alex conflates wealth with income. Classic.

  44. Seriously, if you take away every dime of wealth from those 20% do you expect income quality to magically ppear?

  45. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    I didn’t conflate wealth with income. I used the word “wealth” and used the statistics that pertain to wealth distribution.

  46. Oh, and the economic metrics of the 50’s in the US were to a certain extent an unnatural byproduct of the fact that most of the rest of the world’s manufacturing capailities had been destroyed and at least everely curtailed. I just think it is a bad idea to use that as the baseline to today for a number of reasons, most especially as it relates to economic performance.

  47. Drew says:

    “93% of the total wealth of a nation being concentrated into the hands of 20% of its population is prima facie indicia that government policies lean towards the enabling of rent-seeking and unearned wealth. And money tends to buy both power and influence, meaning that without signficant counterweights, the trend of the wealthy having more money and hence, more power will continue, and will increasingly rig the game so that it stays that way.”

    Alex – The first sentence is the quinessential argument for smaller, less intrusive government. Yet I almost never see anything but left/Democratic (read: more goverment) essays from you, especially on the subject of taxation. What up with that?

    And just what are these “counterweights?” The major political donors to Obama (and most democrats) were Wall Street, the trial lawyers and unions. He (and almost all Democratic pols) have/is paying them back in spades. Whatup with that?

  48. […] What Happened to the Middle Class? […]

  49. […] the comments to James post on the middle class, I made a note to one commenter that: 93% of the total wealth of a nation being […]

  50. superdestroyer says:

    Before anyone goes on some sort of political rant, ever poster needs to look up the following:

    1. the percentage of twenty year olds that had graduated high school in 1955.

    2. The percentage of Americans who were covered by a defined benefit pension in 1955.

    3. The percentage of Americans who took a full week of vacation in 1955.

    4. The percentage of Americans who lived above the poverty line in 1955.

    5. The percentage of high school graduates who attend college in 1955.

    LBJ did not start a war on poverty because the 50’s were such a great time.

  51. sam says:

    @Drew

    “The first sentence is the quintessential argument for smaller, less intrusive government.”

    But his second sentence states the reason why all these calls for a smaller, less intrusive government is so much spitting in the wind. And this is just fatuous:

    And just what are these “counterweights?” The major political donors to Obama (and most democrats) were Wall Street, the trial lawyers and unions. He (and almost all Democratic pols) have/is paying them back in spades.

    If it is meant to imply that Republican electoral success would usher in some New Jerusalem where the money-changers, the rent-seekers, would be put on the run. They’d just find new and creative ways for the “smaller, less intrusive government” to do their bidding. As someone pointed out to me, they would default on their fiduciary duties if they did not. It’s genetic.

  52. Rock says:

    I was born and raised in extreme poverty. In the 50’s our family never owned a new car. I wore secondhand or hand me down clothing. Sometimes I would wear my sister’s shirts because they were the only garments I could find that were clean or didn’t have a hole in it. Every dime I made working odd jobs as a teenager went to buy new jeans or shoes. We were renters. Father would rent a house and pay the rent for three months … then fail to pay for the next three months while we were being evicted. That way we got six months rent for three payments. Rinse and repeat. Ever have chili sandwiches for breakfast?

    I dropped out of high school and left home so there would be one less mouth to feed. Eventually I joined the Army and was paid the handsome sum of $78 bucks a month. I felt like a rich man.

    Looking back now, I much prefer today’s version of poverty.

  53. CintiBud says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    I appreciate you bringing my email to the attention of your readers. It sparked considerable discussion and I learned and thought about a lot of things in the subsequent discussion. I would like to give a little feedback based on what I have learned.

    First, a quibble that has been bothering me. You did not quote the part of my email in which I mentioned that my Father was paid in line with the Marianist Brothers that ran the University of Dayton – that is, quite a bit less than what he would have made at a State run institution at the time. There is a very special reason he stayed at a school ran by the Society of Mary even when offered double his salary to move, but that is another (very touching) story that I won’t go into now. I wish I didn’t name his occupation now as the point is not to compare what a typical full professor makes now vs then, but how a person with a relatively low income was able to get by. Indeed, almost any union person my Father’s age back then (and there were a lot of them in Dayton at that time) made considerably more. We did not live in “relative luxury” – we were probably the poorest family in the neighborhood.

    That said, one point I believe you may have missed, is that all that I mentioned was done on ONE income. Do you really know professors that could send 5 kids to college, without taking on debt, without taking advantage of free tuition benefits, without even to having to cut their own grass or clean their own house without additional income from their spouse? Just how much are they paying those profs? Must be the top people in their field, I guess. Certainly not “Middle Class” – and not having their checks cut by Brother ____ (SM)

    One especially informative link I was directed to by BJ commenters was to a 2007 lecture by Elizabeth Warren. I highly recommend it and would be interested in any rebuttals you might have: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A

    In this talk she shoots down many of the offered explanations above. For example, she shows clothing, food and appliance costs have actually decreased in real dollars, as has many “flexible” expenses. It is the inflexible debt, such as mortgages, health care and, due to two wage earners being necessary – a second car and child care. It is undeniable that house are much larger today, but the question is, who is/(was) buying those houses? Single wage earner families? Not many. In fact, do they even make new 1200 sq ft houses in decent neighborhoods today? Very few. The McMansions are NOT for the middle class and the fact that there are a lot more of them today does not mean the middle class is better off.

    I must bring this to a close as I don’t have much time to comment – check out the YouTube video – it presents the story far better than I ever could.

    Thank you,

    CintiBud

  54. anjin-san says:

    > LBJ did not start a war on poverty because the 50′s were such a great time.

    The 50s were a great time if you were white, and wealthy/middle class. The actual past is much more complex than they myth people like to cling to.

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