There’s been an ongoing flow of ink and discussion about the decline and potential demise of the American Middle Class, that economic entity in which many Americans were raised. The data over the past seven years has shown material damage to the entity with a drop in median family income as well as a loss in median family assets. A record number of Americans are receiving food assistance, more than 93 million are no longer in the workforce and the discrepancy in wealth distribution is now at a point not seen since the Gilded Age of more than a century ago. My own thinking in the more recent past has been about the questions, what precisely is the American Middle Class and how did it come to exist? When did it become a real thing and what factors led to its rise? I don’t believe that you can remedy a situation until you manage to understand it and frankly, focusing on only the economic data is akin to saying that the patient died of massive hemorrhaging when that hemorrhaging was actually caused by multiple gunshots from a Sonny Corleone-style gangland shooting. And yes, that is a purposefully pointed analogy.
What we’re watching now is just a bleeding out from a wounded mass of people, but that hemorrhaging is the result of both purposeful and inadvertant policy decisions that have occurred over the course of decades. This American Middle Class didn’t just arise because a gaggle of World War Two veterans returned home and said Woot! We survived, so let’s start buying! It arose from the culmination of four principal factors that coalesced together after more than a half-century of oft-times painful development. Had any of these factors not occurred, my belief is that what we’ve come to appreciate and mourn would probably never have existed in the first place and we’d have been no different as a nation than any other developing nation with an intransigent oligarchy.