The fall of America's middle class

America's middle class is under siege, while the rich get richer. Photo: Governor O'Malley (AP)

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., August 28, 2013 – The March on Washington demonstrated that the idea that liberalism is still alive and well. Most of the speeches did not talk about individual accomplishments, but of the need to act together to make our country a better place for all of us, not just the few that have reaped obscene gains in the last 30 years.

The emphasis has been changed from attaining civil rights for all, an area in which we have made great progress, to providing economic opportunities to all.

This emphasis is the proper one, not just for minorities, but for most of the citizens of our great country. This is particularly important when decisions like Citizens United continue to shape our economy and our politics.

The recent economic crisis has affected the Black middle class the most. Statistics indicate that while American corporations have set records in net gains in the last three decades, the economic progress for most of us has been at best, marginal. It was no accident that while the middle class stagnated or fell behind, the rich became extraordinarily richer. The idea of the American dream, with a few notable exceptions, became just one more myth. It is significant that most of our current entertainment media is based on escapist themes.

Business friendly economics, favored by most of the administrations before Obama’s, left us with weak and ineffective labor Unions, laughable retirement systems, unaffordable higher education, weakened consumer protection laws and a health industry that leads the costs increase rally and dominates almost 20% of our economy. Proponents of liberalizing trade see most of these historical facts as positive, especially those that resented the power of trade unions in the past.

One can assume that there may be a connection between these facts and the record gains made by corporations. However, some results are even more troublesome; while we have the best medicine in the world, the best universities and the most productive work force, the middle class is finding it more and more difficult to partake of this bonanza.

The liberalization of our commercial laws including free trade agreements, the reduction of economic regulations and decisions like Citizens United have been very beneficial for corporations. However, it is notable that there may be some dark clouds in the future.

The US economy works best when there is a strong middle class that can afford to buy the consumer goods that our economy produces. This was evident during the middle decades of the XX century.

In the last few years we have seen that giving all the benefits to the rich is not the way to benefit the majority. Some would propose that the recent economic crisis proves that even with all the economic advantages, greed by some will cause bad consequences. This was obvious in 2008 when the economy bottomed out attributed by many to the reckless attitude of corporations. The irony was that during the crisis and the partial recovery our corporations continued to show record profits thanks to the most productive work force in the world, while our unemployment rate stays at a crisis level.

Some would say that the cause and effect is easy to see, pure uncontrolled capitalism doesn’t work for most people. We went through this at the end of the XIX century and beginning of the XX. Even Teddy Roosevelt, a stalwart of the Republican Party, knew that and supported measures to control monopolies and in general the government by corporations.

But that is past history; we have to try not to repeat what harmed us and analytically find solutions to our problems. The speech that Maryland’s governor gave at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington can be a good start. He synthesizes what we need to do to get us ready for a prosperous (for the Middle Class) future based on equal opportunity.

Governor O’Malley clearly stated that nostalgia should not be the guiding force of the progressive movement, but a renewed commitment to accomplish the things that will make all of us great. These include education, more rational economic policies, recommitment to fair voting laws, emphasis on prevention rather than incarceration and the abolition of the death penalty. He points out that many of our current policies adversely and unjustly impact our minorities.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is in Facebook (Mario Salazar) and Tweeter (@chibcharus).


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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