Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?
Over the past generation, signs of middle-class distress have continued to grow, in good times and bad, in recession and in boom. Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the bank bailouts points out in a recent column that, “Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street. “
America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.
Policies to strengthen the weakened middle class will certainly include the creation of jobs, helping families to build assets and reduce debt, making higher education more accessible and affordable, and addressing the healthcare crisis.
America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once solid foundation of our nation has certainly been shaken.