The Shrinking Middle ClassMany of the articles I've read recently from a variety of sources discuss some alarming statistics in regard to the "shrinking" of the middle class in America. Numerous...

The Shrinking Middle Class

Many of the articles I've read recently from a variety of sources discuss some alarming statistics in regard to the "shrinking" of the middle class in America. Numerous sources cite some alarming statistics in regard to the growing disparity of wealth between the few at the top and the rest of the population. Also noted is the tremendous difference between the rates of income growth in these two population groups in recent years. Do you believe the middle class is shrinking? If so, how significant is this economic change, and what could/should be done about it?

Expert Answers
missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When economists refer to the middle class shrinking, I am reminded of that adage, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". This was obviously a concept at work during the Great Depression which has caused some alarm in the media. However, I am noticing in dealing with the public that we have a middle class which is made up of survivors today. Although some have lost jobs to the "rich" who are somewhat choosing to sit on their money today so they do not lose it to our economic conditions, I have seen a group of middle class folks committed to remaining at least middle class. This means accessing services offered through our government or taking advantage of coupon lifestyles. Many women have returned to work because their husband's jobs have failed them and families have learned to adapt. No article can crawl into the reality of American life on the whole and determine that the middle class is shrinking. It can only look at statistics and make broad sweeping claims.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maybe part of the reason to be concerned about a shrinking of the middle class is the number of abortions performed each year?  I have read many articles about the millions of children just in the US (but also in other Western nations) who are aborted each year, and if they were not, there would be (logically) more of the middle class.  One such article even stated that this is one of the reasons for the shortage in the social security system funding since all the wages of aborted children are not being contributed.  Of course, we all know that if the government just left that money alone instead of spending it a dozen times and then feigning shock that it's not there when people who have worked their whole lives need it, the system would not be in dire straights.

Curiouser and curiouser...

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's pretty obvious that the middle class is shrinking in the current economic climate, as the job market has not yet recovered, nor has home ownership, both the main sources of middle class wealth.

Part of the reason the middle class appears to be shrinking is that the wealth of the upper classes has grown so rapidly in the past twenty years, even as real earnings for average Americans decreased.

Even so, undocumented immigrants have left this country in startling numbers in the past two years (900,000 from the Gulf States alone), and as they make up a significant portion of the lower economic classes, it offsets the numbers a bit and makes the impact on the lower classes appear smaller than it really is.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If we are talking about standards of living, I do not see the middle class shrinking.  Even the people who we worry about so much as falling out of the middle class often have pretty good standards of living.

For example, I have an ex-student who barely graduated from high school and is now in a relatively menial job at a local clinic.  Her husband is in a similar position.  They have a 1.5 year old and the parents recently bought a 37 inch plasma TV to hang on the wall in the kid's room.

Anecdotes are not solid evidence, of course.  But as some one who grew up in what you might call the Third World, I have a hard time worrying that people like that ex-student of mine are slipping out of the middle class.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that this is a trend that we are not just seeing in the States but also in other Western nations. Certainly economic conditions and other realities seem to be eroding what we have come to know as the middle class and replacing it with a widening gap in the middle separating the very rich from the very poor. I think we need to explore some way of trying to reduce such blatant inequalities and restore a more healthy balance.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lower class is definitely growing.  Most of the people that leave the middle class are going down, not up.  Historically, the one advantage we had was home ownership.  Almost all of the wealth of the middle class was tied up in home equity.  When the recession hit, it hit hardest in the housing market.  This means that not only did the middle class get hit hard with unemployment, it also lost much of its worth.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The middle class is shrinking, the upper class and lower class are both growing. I think that those in the middle class are usually the ones most effected by our poor economy. The rich are able to survive and even prosper to some extent, the lower class is able to be bailed out by the government and the middle class is left to struggle through ion their own.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The middle class is here to stay, it seems to me.  These are the people who do the jobs which will always need doing, such as teachers, and even in this downturn most of them are working.  As a group, they have a strong work ethic and are motivated to do what it takes to support their families.  To that extent, they will thrive and survive.

epollock | Student

I think it moves in cycles and in the last year or two we have been in a down cycle with weak business investment, poor consumer spending, and a general financial instability after former president Bush dispersed the first TARP funds in what was billed as a bailout of the American system. After an extended and lengthy recovery, the system should be doing better and the middle class will grow again.

kc4u | Student

The term 'middle class' rather vaguely refers to a broad middle zone in between the 'upper class' and the 'working class'. It is often sub-divided into the 'upper middle class' and the 'lower middle class'. With the spread of the market economy as well as the phenomenal up-gradation in the field of technology, the older Weberian classification may not be that simply applicable. I agree with the previous post that the so-called 'middle class' is shrinking, not only in America, but in other countries as well. People belonging to the upper margin reap better harvest to approximate the bottom-line of the 'upper class', while the 'lower middle class' slip down a birth lower to join the 'working class' category. Since the 'middle class' plays very significant roles in the socio-cultural domains, this shrinking of the middle territory may lead to far-reaching consequences.