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The Disappearing Middle Class: Implications for Politics and Public Policy

May 30, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Claremont McKenna College (CMC Senior Theses)
America is divided. The income inequality gap between the richest and the poorest citizens has been widening for years: “since 1993, more than half of the nation’s income growth has been captured by the top 1 percent of earners, families who in 2008 made $368,000 or more.”2 In addition, the top one percent of families in America, in terms of wealth, now hold more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The widening gap can be attributed to the ever-rising income levels of those at the top, while the average American’s income has remained relatively stagnant. As costs for family essentials— such as housing, health care, and education—continue to rise, maintaining the lifestyle of a middle class American becomes more difficult.
But what does being middle class mean? The majority of Americans define themselves as middle class, regardless of their wealth. The number of Americans that 6 affiliate with the middle class alludes to the idea that it cannot be defined simply by level of income, number of assets, type of job, etc. The middle class is a lifestyle as much as it is a group of similarly minded people, just as it is a social construct as much as it is an economic construct. Yet as the masses fall away from the elite, and changes continue to reshape the occupational structure of the job market—due to globalization in a technological age; many have begun to question whether or not the middle class—and, by extension, the American way of life—will be able to survive.
This thesis will examine the validity of such concerns as well as provide possible solutions to the problem. The first part of the paper will look at the class structure in America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The second part will provide the reader with a model of the current middle class. The third part will analyze the factors that are changing the American middle class. The fourth part will look at current projected outcomes as well as possible policy solutions. And lastly, the fifth part will discuss the implications for the future of the middle class.
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