For years, the American middle class has been known as the cornerstone of our society as well as a prosperous and critical part of our economy. Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, the middle class and working poor have struggled not only with economics, but also with self-identity. As a result, it’s possible that the government isn’t doing enough to help the middle class stabilize and improve their status in society and the economy during these trying times. Even though the economy is steadily improving, the middle-class is not benefiting much, if at all, economic benefit from the recovery because wages are stagnant and not keeping up with the rising cost of living and the income gap between upper-income families and the middle-class continues to grow.
The first thing that must be done is to ascertain exactly what is meant by the middle-class in America. Joseph G. Eisenhauer explains that even though the term “middle-class” is a pretty universally accepted concept in “common parlance and the social sciences” (103), the term is still “one of the most ambiguous terms in the economic lexicon” (103). In contrast to this definition of the term “middle-class”, Michael E. O’Hanlon states:
“The middle class can be defined by income, education, occupation, values, lifestyle, or a combination of these attributes… the term middle class is synonymous with middle income, and middle-class households are ones whose members earned annual incomes between $35,000 and $80,000 in 2000. This income range spans the third and fourth quintiles of the nation’s income distribution.” (201).
In a Pew Research Center study of 1500 adults conducted from December 8 to 13, 2015, a whopping 62% of those surveyed believe “the government does not do enough to help out the middle class, compared with just 29% who say it does the right amount, and 6% who say it does too much” (“Most Americans Say”). The results from this survey show that Americans believe that the Republican party cares more about the “rich” (62%) than either the middle class or the poor while the Democrats are seen to care just about equally across the economic spectrum with them favoring the poor by 31%, the middle-class by 32% and the rich by 26% (“Most Americans Say”). The middle-class is not the only one being neglected. Per the Pew study, “majorities also say the government doesn’t do enough for older people, poor people or children” (“Most Americans Say”). For years, the government has always lagged behind in finding solutions to problems that plague society economically, socially, and in other ways.
There are four pathways to upward mobility that those in government should concentrate on to help the middle-class gain strength and provide opportunities: 1) postsecondary education, 2) quality jobs, 3) economically viable and diverse neighborhoods, and 4) financial well-being (O’Hanlon 206). Postsecondary education is important because it has the goal of getting more people educated and on the road to finding potential employment in the high-tech world that we now live in. Following on after postsecondary education is quality jobs. This would enable low-income families to live in more “economically and socially viable neighborhood which would provide better schools and job opportunities” (O’Hanlon 211). Finally, the government can promote middle-class growth by promoting financial well-being which would entail making available education on how to accumulate assets instead of debt, providing basic financial literacy classes in schools, and encourage major banks to relocate to areas where banking services may be lacking or not available at all.
As noted above, the economy is in recovery but the engine that creates jobs and fosters growth is still in need of some repairs before the middle-class gets put back to work and low income workers are afforded the chance to advance their standard of living with better paying jobs. As the situation stands, the middle-class still needs help to get back into the groove and start earning the kind of money that will sustain it for years to come. A second round of economic stimulus or other such program could help the situation but there also needs to be sustainable jobs created for the economy to begin to recover fully. The rising cost of living and the gap between what the middle-class earns and what the higher income earners make are both problems which will need to be addressed as well by creating opportunities for investment and growth in the economy where there has been a lot of stagnation. The new Trump administration has the impetus to put all of these measures into practice and get the American economy back on track. Only time will tell if they can pull off what other administrations have tried to do and failed, or just simply ignored while the problem grew worse.
Eisenhauer, Joseph G. “An Economic Definition of the Middle Class.” Forum for Social Economics, vol. 37, no. 2, 2008, pp. 103-113 ProQuest Central, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/docview/211499780?accountid=8289.doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/10.1007/s12143-007-9009-y. Accessed March 3, 2017.
O’Hanlon, Michael E. Opportunity 08, edited by Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution Press, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=1069057. Accessed March 3, 2017.
“Most Americans Say Government Doesn’t Do Enough to Help Middle Class.” Pew Research Center, Accessed March 3, 2017.