Commentary: Middle class should rise up and ignore the political spin

Reply Tue 21 Aug, 2012 10:12 am
Aug. 21, 2012
Commentary: Middle class should rise up and ignore the political spin
Mary Sanchez | The Kansas City Star

If ever there were a time to pitch a national read-in, this is it.

The 2012 election campaign is upon us, and from what we’ve seen so far, the tenor of the "messaging" is not what anybody would term enlightening.

What the American public needs right now is context. Deeper interpretation of the data that get thrown at us by the news media. Analysis that steps back from conventional wisdom and soberly considers the origin and nature of the stress and fear so many of us feel about where our nation and our society are going.

The text we should all be reading is "The Betrayal of the American Dream," by the reporting team of Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. Published this month, the book is a nuanced and well-researched report on the crisis of the American middle class. That is the crisis of our time, and if we’re lucky, it is issue on which this year’s elections will turn.

Middle-class Americans know they are hurting, or are at least vulnerable to the misfortunes they see happening to others. The seriousness of the crisis is easy enough to outline: 22 million people out of work, staggering levels of household debt, a devastated manufacturing base and a wealth gap that has expanded to proportions last seen in the era of the Robber Barons.

Problem is, without context, voters are apt to buy into consensus thinking that rings "true" but is not. Or to submit to the rhetoric of outrage that is carefully retailed by cable TV and AM radio specifically to stir their tribal passions. This, in turn, can have people inadvertently voting against their own interests.

That is not to say Barlett and Steele are disintersted or dispassionate. They summarize the object of their book in the prologue: "The forces that are dismantling the American middle class are relentless. America must stop sacrificing its greatest asset. Because, without a middle class, there isn’t really an America."

No one goes unscathed. Congress, they write, has taken a "30-year holiday from economic reality -- at least as far as the middle class is concerned." Presidents from both parties from the mid-1970s to today have all too willingly sacrificed the fortunes of working people on the altar of international free trade. In 1979, the authors point out, there were 19.5 million manufacturing jobs in the United States. In 2011, there were 11.6 million.

"American politicians are always talking about creating jobs," Barlett and Steele write. "So why is it they are always killing jobs?" That’s Chapter 8. It’s a detailed, blow-by-blow accounting of what Congress did to kill a number of American industries.

A particularly useful aspect of the book is its historical scope and the way the authors document important turning points for the middle class. Consider 1985. From 1950 until that year, they write, the number of American workers with defined-benefit pensions had steadily grown. Since 1985, corporations have killed 84,350 pension plans.

As with so many other luxuries of a bygone era, workers no longer expect a defined benefit pension anymore, even though such plans are a major part of what sustains older middle-class people today.

In a recent public talk promoting the book, Steele noted the embattled psyche of the American worker. Pummeled by stagnating wages and lost jobs, many have unfortunately bought into the idea that their shrinking fortunes and opportunities are of their own making.

A bit of this may be the sense of individualism and work ethic that have long been the strength of America. But it’s self-defeating. Average Americans need to understand the root causes of the displacement they see around them -- and the further consequences they should expect if nothing is done.

That’s what the book is about.

For those unfamiliar with the names, Barlett and Steele are legendary reporters -- the kind that other reporters revere. An investigative team for more than 40 years, theirs is a partnership that exemplifies two of the tried and true axioms of journalism: Follow the money. And verify, verify, verify.

And, no, they don’t spare their own profession the scrutiny it deserves. The press has all too often served as the handmaiden of money and power.

The media love to cover politics as a horserace, and part of that is slicing and dicing the electorate into constituencies it can name and analyze. Lost in this blather is the fact that the middle class is America’s largest voting bloc.

It can assert its will in this election. But first it needs to get wise.
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Reply Tue 21 Aug, 2012 10:17 am
The Betrayal of the American Dream
by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele

Book Description
Publication Date: July 31, 2012

America’s unique prosperity is based on its creation of a middle class. In the twentieth century, that middle class provided the workforce, the educated skills, and the demand that gave life to the world’s greatest consumer economy. It was innovative and dynamic; it eclipsed old imperial systems and colonial archetypes. It gave rise to a dream: that if you worked hard and followed the rules you would prosper in America, and your children would enjoy a better life than yours.

The American dream was the lure to gifted immigrants and the birthright opportunity for every American citizen. It is as important a part of the history of the country as the passing of the Bill of Rights, the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg, or the space program. Incredibly, however, for more than thirty years, government and big business in America have conspired to roll back the American dream. What was once accessible to a wide swath of the population is increasingly open only to a privileged few.

The story of how the American middle class has been systematically impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite is at the heart of this extraordinarily timely and revealing book, whose devastating findings from two of the finest investigative reporters in the country will leave you astonished and angry.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist, **starred** review
“Barlett and Steele address key elements of this betrayal [of the middle class] (globalization, outsourcing, taxes, pensions, financial-sector dominance), then offer suggestions for reversing it, including progressive tax reform, fair trade, infrastructure investment, focused retraining, and criminal prosecution of white-collar criminals. Expect demand.”

Columbia Journalism Review
“The dedication reveals the emotional heart of their enterprise: Not merely number-crunching chroniclers of middle-class decline, they are invested in the fate of the people who exemplify it. Barlett and Steele’s preeminent talent is their knack for combining the micro and the macro. They look systemically at issues and policies, from the US tax code to healthcare. The questions they ask are both pragmatic (Does the system work?) and ideological (Who is benefiting, and at whose expense?). Their conclusions are buttressed by details gleaned from public records. But they also use the paper trail to track down the system’s apparent victims…the laid-off, the discarded, the pensionless, and the uninsured.”

Publishers Weekly
“The ostensibly willful destruction of the American middle class is laid bare in this villains and underdogs story from the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting duo…for folks bowled over by the recent financial meltdown, Barlett and Steele's book will resonate.”

Leonard Downie, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Just in time for this year's election, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are continuing the crusade to save the American middle class that they began two decades ago as star investigative reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer….At a time when the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the digital reconstruction of American news media, Barlett and Steele could once again pioneer new ways of doing it, as they did in part through this collaboration with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. In any event, the publication of The Betrayal of the American Dream during the home stretch of the national political campaign injects a provocative populist imperative into an increasingly intense and perhaps decisive partisan debate over the fate of the American middle class.”

Associated Press
“The avuncular pair, renowned for chillingly accurate, if uncomfortable, observations, have meticulously sharpened their analysis. Now, four decades of mistaken tax and trade policy, declining public and private investment and willing disregard of existing laws have crippled many American industries and sent thousands upon thousands of U.S. jobs overseas without cause, they say. Given the power of their past groundbreaking work on health care, the economy and other political hot potatoes that shape how all Americans live, ‘‘Betrayal’’ merits a careful read from anyone concerned about the nation’s economic future. It is almost haunting…They dissect one industry after another with the precision and narrative flair that have won them many awards, including two Pulitzers.…The writers conclude with a cogent plan for substantial, specific changes to rehabilitate the American dream and rescue the middle class.”

About the Authors

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are the nation’s most honored investigative reporting team, and authors of the New York Times bestseller America: What Went Wrong? They have worked together for more than forty years, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer (1971–1997), then at Time magazine (1997–2006), and now at Vanity Fair since 2006. They have also written seven books. They are the only reporting team ever to have received two Pulitzer Prizes for newspaper reporting and two National Magazine Awards for magazine work. They live in Philadelphia.

Reply Tue 21 Aug, 2012 10:48 am
I see that, on the fringes of the GOP convention, will be an ICE SCUPTURE of the disappearing Middle Class. It will be allowed to melt throughout the Convention and I understand that several cameras (probly not FOX) will come back to the sculpture for some comedy relief.
Reply Tue 21 Aug, 2012 12:10 pm
Business Insider
22 Statistics That Prove The Middle Class Is Being Systematically Wiped Out Of Existence In America
Michael Snyder
July 15, 2010 - I don't find any 2012 information) BBB

Jacob Rothschild, John Paulson And George Soros Are All Betting That Financial Disaster Is Coming

Startling Evidence That Central Banks And Wall Street Insiders Are Rapidly Preparing For Something BIG

22 Stats That Show How The Emerging One World Economy Is Absolutely Killing American Workers

The 22 statistics that you are about to read prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence in America.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a blinding pace.

See proof of the Middle Class extermination -->

So why are we witnessing such fundamental changes? Well, the globalism and "free trade" that our politicians and business leaders insisted would be so good for us have had some rather nasty side effects. It turns out that they didn't tell us that the "global economy" would mean that middle class American workers would eventually have to directly compete for jobs with people on the other side of the world where there is no minimum wage and very few regulations. The big global corporations have greatly benefited by exploiting third world labor pools over the last several decades, but middle class American workers have increasingly found things to be very tough.

The reality is that no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker ten times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. Wealth and power are rapidly becoming concentrated at the top and the big global corporations are making massive amounts of money. Meanwhile, the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new "global" labor pool.

What do most Americans have to offer in the marketplace other than their labor? Not much. The truth is that most Americans are absolutely dependent on someone else giving them a job. But today, U.S. workers are "less attractive" than ever. Compared to the rest of the world, American workers are extremely expensive, and the government keeps passing more rules and regulations seemingly on a monthly basis that makes it even more difficult to conduct business in the United States.

So corporations are moving operations out of the U.S. at breathtaking speed. Since the U.S. government does not penalize them for doing so, there really is no incentive for them to stay.

What has developed is a situation where the people at the top are doing quite well, while most Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to make it. There are now about 6 unemployed Americans for every new job opening in the United States, and the number of "chronically unemployed" is absolutely soaring. There simply are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.

Many of those who are able to get jobs are finding that they are making less money than they used to. In fact, an increasingly large percentage of Americans are working at low wage retail and service jobs.

But you can't raise a family on what you make flipping burgers at McDonald's or on what you bring in from greeting customers down at the local Wal-Mart.

The truth is that the middle class in America is dying -- and once it is gone it will be incredibly difficult to rebuild.

83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
Source: ACS, Lending Report via Financemymoney.com

61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.

66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
Flickr User Itzafineday (www.flickr.com
Source: Harvard Magazine

36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.
Flickr User Algo (www.flickr.com
Source: Careerbuilder.com poll via CNBC

A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
Flickr User Alancleaver 2000 (www.flickr.com
Source: Employment Benefit Research Institute via CNN

24% of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
Flickr User Thomas Hawk (www.flickr.com
Source: Employment Benefit Research Institute via CNN

Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
Source: mybudget360.com

Note: 2005 spike preceded tougher bankruptcy filing laws
Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.

Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
Flickr User Smittenkittenorig (www.flickr.com
Source: Dailyfinance.com

For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
Source: Federal Reserve Board via endoftheamericandream.com

In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
Flickr User Zepfanman.com (www.flickr.com
Source: Smirkingchimp.com

As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
Source: Dailyfinance.com
Source: Institute for Policy Studies

The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Source: UN via informationclearinghouse.info

Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
Flickr User Tony The Misfit (www.flickr.com
Source: Washington Times

In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
Flickr User Stuck in Customs (www.flickr.com
Source: USA Today
[Author's statistic altered to provide valid source.]

The top 1% of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
Flickr User AMagill (www.flickr.com
Source: CBO via MSN

In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
Flickr User deanmeyersnet (www.flickr.com
Source: Telegraph

More than 40% of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
Flickr User H Dragon (www.flickr.com
Source: CNN

For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
Flickr User Clementine Gallot (www.flickr.com
Source: Boston Globe

This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
Flickr User NeilsPhotography (www.flickr.com
Source: World Socialist Web Site via axisoflogic.com

Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
Flickr User D'Arcy Norman (www.flickr.com
Source: Reuters

Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 - the highest rate in 20 years.
Flickr User cambodia4kidsorg (www.flickr.com
Source: Foundation for Child Development via CNN

The top 10% of Americans now earn around 50% of our national income.
Flickr User greggoconnell (www.flickr.com
Source: Professor Emmanuel Saez of the UC Berkeley

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/22-statistics-that-prove-the-middle-class-is-being-systematically-wiped-out-of-existence-in-america-2010-7?op=1#ixzz24ClsywR2
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