Saving America’s shrinking middle-class

WASHINGTON — Every nation has its founding myths, but ours are singular — brimful of ideas about self-reliance, entrepreneurship and egalitarianism. Americans are a people whose political and civic culture rely on the belief that any person can get ahead if he works hard enough, if he is determined enough, if he is resilient enough.

It’s a useful view that fuels the dynamism, creativity and resourcefulness that have made our economy the envy of the world. A people who believe they can do anything if they set their minds to it are bound to accomplish much of what they attempt.

But our smug acceptance of those Horatio Alger myths has also blinded us to reality: it is harder to get ahead in this country than we think. There isn’t as much economic mobility as we’ve been led to believe.

Research has shown that workers tend to get stuck in the same socio-economic bracket as their parents — especially those on the bottom half of the income ladder. If you are born in an upper-middle-class household, you may become fabulously wealthy. But if you’re born to parents earning working-class wages, it’s much less likely that you’ll end up among the affluent.

What accounts for the growing gulf between the haves and the lesser-haves? One primary cause: affluent and well-educated parents pass on multiple advantages to their children, starting with a more dynamic learning environment in those critical toddler years. According to early education experts, toddlers with parents from the professional class have much larger vocabularies when they start school — an advantage that boosts their performance on standardized tests.

Children without that advantage may work hard, they may be determined, they may be resilient, but they are unlikely to be able to overcome that gap. Their reading and writing skills won’t catch up with their more affluent peers. And they are less likely to be considered college material — a judgment that will affect their earning prospects for a lifetime.

That matters because our economy is rapidly shifting toward one that rewards those who can process information and think critically and creatively. Manufacturing jobs, which once promised decent wages and benefits to those without a high school diploma, are dying away.

In many areas, the only jobs available to those without college degrees are those that cannot be outsourced or moved abroad: farm labor, dependent care (children and the elderly) or services such as the beauty trade. And most of those jobs don’t pay well.

That dichotomy is especially apparent in urban areas such as Atlanta, New York or here in the nation’s capitol, where factories, if they ever existed, long since left town. And it’s one reason those cities are so amenable to less-educated immigrants: they don’t mind the low-paying service sector jobs that are available to them.

Ironically, a withering recession has led many Americans to believe that those immigrants are the problem: if they’d just leave, the U.S. economy would blossom with well-paying jobs for native-born Americans. That’s just not so. The income gap would continue to grow and the great middle-class would continue to shrink — even if we were suddenly able to round up all illegal immigrants and deport them.

The key to rejuvenating broad-based economic opportunity lies in re-tooling our public schools, encouraging academic accomplishment and broadening access to college. Free pre-kindergarten classes should be widely available; so should afternoon tutorial sessions for students who need help catching up with their more affluent peers. Indeed, the school-year — still averaging 180 days, based on an agrarian calendar — ought to be longer.

That’s a lot to do, but it’s not beyond our reach. A country with the can-do spirit distilled in our civic myths ought to be willing and able to change with the times.

137 comments Add your comment

Mr. Right

March 23rd, 2011
11:04 am

The middle class is becoming to dependent the gov.

Jimmy62

March 23rd, 2011
11:15 am

So you write a whole thing about the advantages that kids who grow up in homes with educated parents have, and then the solution you present is to take kids away from their parents and make them spend more time in school. That doesn’t make sense. If the parents are the difference, than it seems like your plan would possible level the playing field, but only by lowering the kids from “higher class” homes rather than helping the rest of the kids rise up.

This isn’t about making kids spend more time in school. It’s about culture. White, black, or Hispanic, there’s an undeniable anti-education streak in the lower class in this country, and that’s what we need to change. Forcing kids to spend more time in public schools and thus less with their families won’t fix that, but it may very well make it worse.

HDB

March 23rd, 2011
11:23 am

In order to rebuild America’s middle class….the INDUSTRIAL component of America must return! When the US led the world in manufacturing capability, the middle class was able to expand; now that the preponderance of manufacturing has gone offshore, the decline of the middle class is more evident than before. One can not blame the unions for the decline of manufacturing…and the subsequent decline of the middle class; blame corporate management and the financiers!!

ken

March 23rd, 2011
11:26 am

Fundamentally change America. He kept his promise.
.

Words have power

March 23rd, 2011
11:26 am

Cynthia, I agree with most of what you wrote. How do we combat the downward pressure on the middle class caused from losing manufacturing jobs? That’s a good question. Perhaps providing a tax break to businesses would work to offset the difference in cost between an American worker and an offshore worker plus cost of shipping the goods. That would at least give an incentive to keep jobs here. I have another question though Cynthia. If we re-tool our schools like you say and bring everyone up to the about same education level, will there be enough jobs “that rewards those who can process information and think critically and creatively?”

Corey

March 23rd, 2011
11:28 am

Jimmy62, Cynthia sums up her argument thusly, “The key to rejuvenating broad-based economic opportunity lies in re-tooling our public schools, encouraging academic accomplishment and broadening access to college. Free pre-kindergarten classes should be widely available; so should afternoon tutorial sessions for students who need help catching up with their more affluent peers. Indeed, the school-year — still averaging 180 days, based on an agrarian calendar — ought to be longer.” And yet you find fault in that? PLEASE!

joe

March 23rd, 2011
11:32 am

It’s all about personal responsibility people. The only one who can doing anything for the betterment of you is you.

Perhaps those on the so-called lower end, would make a better life for themselves by making better choices and taking personal responsibility to heart. Start by paying attention in school and actually learning subjects like, Math, English, History, etc. By getting an education and graduating with a goal of going to college, they set themselves up for success, not matter what their parents did with their lives..

The alternatives for those who don’t pay attention in class end up turning to selling drugs or a life of gang banging, having umpteen kids out of wedlock looking for government handouts to keep them in a life of poverty and misery. So the moral of this story is, open up your mind, keep your pants on and you’ll live a much better life.

SouthGaDawg

March 23rd, 2011
11:35 am

Ahh..I’ve been waiting for weekly the class-warfare article. It’s a few days overdue isn’t it CT?

Seems to me that you believe the solution is to have the government provide more free education to students. Ok, I’ll agree with you that this could help. However, it is all for naught unless the child’s parents take an active role in their education.

More education can help a child become more afluent, however, unless that mythical lower-income child’s parents actually instill a drive to succeed in the child, there’s nothing more free government education can do to help that child. If the kid’s parents don’t take an active role in their life, then that child will end up just like his parents: asking for a government handout.

This isn’t a problem that you can just throw money at and you can’t make a kid learn if he/she has no desire to. Someone has to want to be helped before they can actually be helped.

I’d encourage you to drive through the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta and let me know how much more free government education would help those individuals. The people hanging out on the stoops don’t look very interested in bettering themselves (or getting a free education). However, I’d venture that all of the young mothers I see hanging out would love some more government day-care for their illegitimate children.

drinking the koolaid

March 23rd, 2011
11:36 am

Education is a joint activity between students and childern. No amount of funding for schools can overcome the effect of parents who don’t work with their kids or those that do not enforce the importance of education. No doubt that the wealthy pass on advantages and no disagreement that universal pre-k is a good approach to giving everyone a chance at a good start.

All of this is for nothing if the parents don’t remain involved. Too often school is looked at as more of a baby sitter role rather than an educational opportunity. An expanded school year doesn’t help a child who isn’t required to think after they go home.

I was raised in a very poor family- my parents raised 4 of us on $15K a year, but we were never allowed to skip out on school and going to college was something we “had to do” according to my Dad. I started school without the benefit of pre-k or any schooling. I entered kindegarten without knowing colors, numbers, or anything. But my parents worked hard to make sure I caught up.

Other kids in my class were not so lucky- most were at the same income level as we were. Yet they focused on buying new shoes or video games, but were always absent from class or not doing home work.

Education begins at home- and no matter how much money is thrown at a public school you can’t over come indifferent parents.

hobby

March 23rd, 2011
11:40 am

All of the manufacturing jobs are gone to other countries? Should have listened to Ross Perot

Libby

March 23rd, 2011
11:43 am

As if this was by accident – the easiest way to destroy the middle class is to eliminate middle class jobs. Whatever industry hasn’t been outsourced has it’s lobbyests get visas and green cards for foreign scabs to be brought here.

Communism 101 – eradicate the middle class, destroy religion, spread the military too thin, dumb down education, destroy the family, etc.

What is so amusing to me is to watch the commies pretend to be disturbed by the eradication of the middle class – when everything they do further destroys it.

hdhd

March 23rd, 2011
11:44 am

“toddlers with parents from the professional class have much larger vocabularies when they start school”

Correlation without causation. I bet if you did a study you would also see that parents who talked to their kids using proper English and taught them the value of hard work would also do better in school too (remeber actions are the best teachers).

Once you become reliant on the government to raise your kids and they fail (because that is what the government does), you have no one to blame but the people who did not rely on the government.

Atlanta 1

March 23rd, 2011
11:45 am

Outstanding Ms. Tucker.

You are spot on.

Senior Citizen Kane

March 23rd, 2011
11:45 am

I agree with much of what you say, but your description of America’s can-do spirit as a “myth” makes me cringe.

Gator Joe

March 23rd, 2011
11:49 am

Cynthia,
Excellent article, and sadly, this country will continue to be plagued by the effects of poverty and those living just marginally above the poverty line. Particularly as long as the public school system remains underfunded and underresourced. The Right, especially Republicans and their wealthy supporters, won’t wake up until crime and social unrest reach crisis levels, and both will.

Jim Turner

March 23rd, 2011
11:50 am

Wow! We actually almost agree on this one! Looks like you’ve hit a “middle spot” yourself.

Peadawg

March 23rd, 2011
11:52 am

After a few days of nothing, Cynthia comes back with a class warfare blog? Really?

Nothing about Obama going behind Congress’s back? Nothing about Obama alienating himself from his own party? Nothing about Obama wanting to spread Democracy by bombing another country (dejavu anyone)? Nope…another calls warfare article. Sad…

Tommy Maddox

March 23rd, 2011
11:54 am

Gee: welcome to change you can believe in.

Tommy Maddox

March 23rd, 2011
11:55 am

Don’t forget magnificent coalition building…

Heads UP

March 23rd, 2011
11:55 am

“Ironically, a withering recession has led many Americans to believe that those immigrants are the problem: if they’d just leave, the U.S. economy would blossom with well-paying jobs for native-born Americans. That’s just not so.”

It is SO. More and more Americans are awaking up to the fact we cannot continue taking the rest of the World’s (mostly uneducated) populace and sneak them though our back doors. Were not just talking about hispanics here in the South either. Every large urban area of our country has an immigrant population that is enticed to come here with $ and promises for a brighter future with government help all along the way.

Our public schools cannot continue to serve everybody. Neither can our government, we cannot afford it. Taxpayers are getting FED up!

Ellis Island is what built our country and made it strong. PC immigration IS killing US.

Senior Citizen Kane

March 23rd, 2011
12:01 pm

“underfunded” schools Gator Joe? The U.S. spends more per student in primary education than all nations but Denmark, Switzerland and Austria. And we’re close to those three. Our schools may not be the best, but underfunding certainly isn’t the reason.

Ahnald

March 23rd, 2011
12:03 pm

Agree with Senior Citizen Kane….the Americans that rose up and founded this country had a “can do” spirit and we still do, do not discount or downgrade this spirit and will ” as a myth”…certain ethic groups have and are doing their best to bring that down, basically open thy hand and have government take care of me while taking absolutely NO RESPONSIBILTY TO BETTER ONE’s SELF or their family,that is the truth

I was brought up with an attitude that anything is possible in this country, it still is and will always will be…called work ethic and drive. My wife is Brazilian, when her family and friends visit us here, they cannot beleive all the oportunities we have, they are limitless. On the same note, they cannot beleive how overweight,obese, and lazy we have become…they would gladly work and excel at jobs we turn our nose at. On Obama’s trip to Brazil, they prayed he would take all of the American Fast food restaurants home with him back to the US

ByteMe

March 23rd, 2011
12:06 pm

400 families have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population. 400 families when compared to over 150 million people.

And useful idiots want to repeal all estate taxes to keep this situation in place. What’s next? Bring back the titles of Duke and Sir so that we can further separate them from the common folks?

RL

March 23rd, 2011
12:12 pm

What we have done is not bring everyone up to a higher level of education but we have brought everyone down to a lower level of education.

Barner B. Jones

March 23rd, 2011
12:13 pm

HDB- put down the crack pipe and find a job. The unions, with their corruption and hefty benefit packages, have destoyed the US steel industry, the railroads and now the automobile industry. The US will never be an industrial power again. We all have the greedy unions for putting the US at a competitive disadvantage to all second and third-world economies.

Liberal Pariah

March 23rd, 2011
12:14 pm

Success in life and work starts at home. Government can’t do it. The government has created programs and schools that could lead to economic and academic success if the people in the system have the right mindset and culture to succeed in the system. Sadly, too many are looking for someone else to make it happen for them instead of taking personal responsibility. That goes for all socio-economic classes.

Heads UP

March 23rd, 2011
12:15 pm

Something tells me the poster @ 12:06 will not have the title of Duke ByteMe. Such a pity!

Senior Citizen Kane

March 23rd, 2011
12:15 pm

“400 families have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.”

That’s been true for at least 30 years. And the amount of money someone else has affects you how?

AngryRedMarsWoman

March 23rd, 2011
12:19 pm

Here is a case study for you – my older sibling and I grew up in the same working class household with a hard-working blue collar manual laborer for a father. My sibling has worked nothing but “clock-punching, just-above-minimum-wage” service sector jobs and just a few years ago finally moved out of the trailer park into a small unkempt home. I achieved two college degrees and a doctorate and for over a decade now have earned many many times more than my parents did in their best year.

Two kids, same household, same advantages and disadvantages….stark contrast in results. It is all about drive and ambition and making hard choices. You only become what you grew up around if you CHOOSE to do so – my parents worked hard so I took that, but they were not educated or professional folks and I chose to try to have more. There are children given every advantage growing up who become prostitutes and druggies and there are children raised in the ghetto who go on to be doctors and lawyers. Your upbringing may not have given you the connections or resources to go to the best schools (mine didn’t) or meet the people who can hand you a company (or country) to run (mine didn’t), but you can sure as heck work your way pretty far up the ladder without those things. I did. My sibling didn’t. Choices. Ambition. Striving for more. Happy Humpday.

HDB

March 23rd, 2011
12:20 pm

Barner B. Jones
March 23rd, 2011
12:13 pm

1) I have a job…..
2) Unions are NOT the villans; why are the more unionized nations (Germany, for example) the more affluent and productive?? Management makes the decisions that labor follows…..recheck the paradigm!!

sport

March 23rd, 2011
12:21 pm

CT – well educated parents do a lot to help their children so shouldn’t we encourage more well educated parents to have children and discourage young people without proper educations to bring children into this world?

Let’s cut right to the source of the problem if we really want to solve the gap problem your’re discussing

More school programs might help those already born to uneducated parent(s), but at the root of the problem is women having kids when they probably shouldn’t.

I think the answer lies within us.

tbt

March 23rd, 2011
12:23 pm

Educators are baffled why our public schools continue to deteriorate. They wounder why US educated kids aren’t as smart or as disciplined as the Chinese. More money is demanded to educate the masses.

China only has to educate it’s own. US public schools have to educate a myriad of cultures and often ignore the children of the taxpayers to coddled to everyone else.

Do we really have to wonder why the middle class is dying?

BuhBye

March 23rd, 2011
12:25 pm

“Unions are NOT the villans; why are the more unionized nations (Germany, for example) the more affluent and productive??”

What is stopping you from moving to Germany then?

PJ

March 23rd, 2011
12:26 pm

For once, I completely agree with you, Cynthia. However, only the states have the power to truly reinvest in education. Medicaid, as we know it, has become on a drain on state spending and we must figure out a way to provide those benefits without sacrificing the long-term investments like state infrastructure and education. My point is that reforming Medicaid would solve a lot of problems.

Stonethrower

March 23rd, 2011
12:28 pm

You folks should be glad for the anti-education attitude you claim the lower class and minorities have. Less competition for those coveted slots in insitutions of higher learning and well paying jobs for you and yours.

DebbieDoRight

March 23rd, 2011
12:28 pm

It’s about culture. White, black, or Hispanic, there’s an undeniable anti-education streak in the lower class in this country,

Race Baiting Alert!! Race Baiting Alert!!! Second comment in!! Must be a record!!!

Tired and Disgusted

March 23rd, 2011
12:29 pm

I know one thing. One day the “have nots” are going to get fed up of the greedy “that have” more and more of the richer getting richer and there is going to be a civil war right here on earth. There is definitely more of the “have nots” everywhere on earth. Something is boiling over in the universe, hurricanes, earthquates, the tsunami and nuclear reactors. All is not well in the scheme of things, maybe these are the last days.

smooveb

March 23rd, 2011
12:34 pm

Class warfare, again………….yawn.

ByteMe

March 23rd, 2011
12:35 pm

Senior Citizen Kane says in reference to the stat showing that the richest 400 families control more wealth than the lowest 150 million people, “That’s been true for at least 30 years. And the amount of money someone else has affects you how?”

Interesting that you picked up on it starting with Reagan. I can’t prove that it the wealth transfer started right then, but that’s certainly been the start of the wealthy taking control of the government for their own personal benefit. We had gotten away from that back in the early 20th century as the Robber Barons were put out of business, but seem to have forgotten the lessons learned from back then.

So let me give you an example of how it affects me: let’s say you have $10 billion and I have $100,000. Which of us will have an easier time making $1,000,000? You will, of course. And you should have an easier time, really, since you probably worked hard for that $10 billion. But your children did not. So they shouldn’t directly benefit just because of a fluke of genetics.

Now let’s say you’re the owner of the multi-billion dollar corporation named after your family. And the law is in place that says that the copyrights on the products your father created 50 years ago are about to expire and can’t be renewed. What will you do to keep your personal gravy train going? You’ll pay off some Congress people to change the law, of course. Isn’t that special? Yes, of course it happened that way.

So the rich continue to skew the system away from the poor. And 150 million consumers still have more influence over the economy than 400 families… but not over the government who makes the rules for how the rest of us live.

And that’s how it affects me.

tbt

March 23rd, 2011
12:35 pm

“There is definitely more of the “have nots” everywhere on earth.”

Is there more “have nots” like yourself ? Aww, pity!

Many kids don't have a chance

March 23rd, 2011
12:36 pm

Not mentioned in the article, but key to children’s success, is the presence of both a father and a mother in the house. Too many single parent homes (which almost inevitably lead to lower socioeconomic status) mean kids who have overworked parents who don’t have the time to spend with their kids. You can’t just leave the education of children completely to schools. Lack of direction at home and lack of role models/discipline just create more problems for the schools, police, society.
Did I mention the incidence of single parent homes has exploded in the last 30-40 years? Think there’s no correlation?

Wiie

March 23rd, 2011
12:36 pm

Tucker starts with a ode to the middle class, throws on a little conspiracy and class envy and wraps with a big government solution for the lower classes. For those of actually in the middle class, it’s a reminder that liberals love the idea of the middle class, but actually not the pele who live there. Tucker thinks that more and more top heavy, heavy handed government school is the solution to disconnected parenting
Not very bright not very amazing either.

joe suggs

March 23rd, 2011
12:38 pm

Throw more money at the problem. How about some personal responsibility.Get off the lazy rear ends and make an actual contribution to society.

Senior Citizen Kane

March 23rd, 2011
12:39 pm

Sorry to disappoint you ByteMe, but if that rich man’s money doesn’t go to his family and goes instead into the public till, it won’t go to you. It will go to waste.

News Alert

March 23rd, 2011
12:39 pm

The Internet can now be used for searching for a job. Blogging about your problems and your entitlement issues is not a requirement in gaining employment. Just thought I’d thrown that out there for all you class warfare folks like Tired and Disgusting.

You are welcome! :)

Jack

March 23rd, 2011
12:39 pm

What we have here is a endorsement of Hillary’s promise to eliminate inequity. Tucker proposes to do just that: take the upper-middle-class’s money and give it to the those considered less fortunate. It’s the same old egalitarian crap that pervades all liberal, Marxist reasoning.

Roll Tide!

March 23rd, 2011
12:40 pm

Ms. Tucker,
Once again the “pea” brains are out. Rather than respond to your article about the disappearing middle class, they want to change the subject and blather on about their idol Obama.

udgf

March 23rd, 2011
12:40 pm

new york city spends over $14K to educate a student each year – how much is necessary CT?

0311/0317 -1811/1801

March 23rd, 2011
12:42 pm

Cynthia:

That is absolutely the most articulate, clear, well thought through and honest opinion about how to save America’s middle class that I believe I have ever read.

Too bad it’s the same old liberal drivel.

bob

March 23rd, 2011
12:42 pm

cindy – maybe we should make kids from affluent parents wait until they are 7yoa before we let them start school so the less fortunate can get an extra head start.