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The Disappearing Middle Class

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No politician wants to talk about this and most Americans don’t want to admit it, but the middle class is rapidly disappearing in this country, with contingent, part-time, and freelancing employment replacing the stable jobs with solid incomes that made up the middle class in the second half of the twentieth century. With almost every piece of economic news, this becomes ever more clear.

An improving housing market and rising stock prices appear to have done little to increase the take-home pay of the typical U.S. worker. And while the economy continues to heal faster than that of almost any other Western nation, evidence remains strong that the recovery has done little to boost the fortunes of people in the vast economic middle.

The Labor Department reported this month that average earnings have barely grown faster than inflation over the past year. Data from spring show that median earnings — those of the worker smack in the middle of the middle class — have fallen 4 percent since the recession ended, after adjusting for inflation.

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco reported this week that wage growth across the economy is continuing to slow in the wake of the recession, in a way similar to the past two recessions but counter to previous recoveries in the 20th century. The researchers warned that wage growth is likely to decelerate “long after the unemployment rate has returned to more normal levels.”

Again, the fundamentals of the middle-class are disappearing: the ability to buy a home, an inexpensive college education, stable employment, steady wage growth. The stock market and home prices for the rich can rise and rise and lead to people talking about an economic recovery, but the quality of life for average Americans continues to decline.

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