The Middle Class

July 29, 2013 - 7:58 AM
"U.S. President Barack Obama is using his weekly address to promote a better bargain for the middle class."

If that were the lead of an Associated Press report, we might think it deserves a closer look, but it was the lead of a press release from the Voice of America, an arm of the U.S. State Department.

Let's look at Politico.com's lead: "President Barack Obama sharpened his focus on the economy Wednesday, looking to breathe new life into his second-term agenda with a fresh pivot back to the issue a majority of Americans feel most acutely in their daily lives."

Ok. We can work with that.

President Obama is in a rut. He is staring down the barrel of a second term that finds him stuck at 46 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval according to the never-ending Gallup tracking poll. Barring an attack on the U.S., that is likely to be how he goes limping through the next three-plus years.

Not only is there almost zero chance he will help win control of the U.S. House for the Democrats - control he squandered in 2010 by insisting on the passage of Obamacare - but more and more analysts are suggesting the GOP has a real shot a taking control of the U.S. Senate in next year's mid-term elections.

Foreign policy is a mess. Well, that's overstating it. If there were a cohesive foreign policy, it would be a mess.

Unemployment is static. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (and this will be updated a week from today) 11.8 million Americans are unemployed , and the unemployment rate, is at 7.6 percent. According to the BLS, "Both measures have shown little change since February."

Thirty days hath

Obamacare is on the skids. Although House Republicans have voted to repeal it 731 times, it is still in effect except for the part where Obama delayed for one year the imposition of Obamacare on employers.

CNN pointed out that while employers got a one-year reprieve on having to offer health insurance, "Workers at these companies still have to get coverage or pay a penalty. Many would be subject to penalties -- $95 per adult or 1% of family income, whichever is greater, next year."

Those workers are the middle class.

The Washington Post published an essay by Dylan Matthews about a year ago suggesting that the "middle class" can be plausibly defined as, "Those households in the middle quintile of the income distribution, or between the 40th and 60th percentiles."

According to Matthews, that group makes just a shade under $50,000 per year which doesn't sound like that much. But it works out to about $24 per hour which sounds pretty good.

I did an interview on Wisconsin public radio a couple of weeks ago and a caller asked how I could justify workers making (say) $50,000 per year when the CEOs were making millions.

I couldn't. Neither, I said, can I justify Rafael Soriano making $14 million per year to pitch not more than one inning per night for the Washington Nationals while the ticket takers at the gate are making something on the order of $18,000 for the season.

There was a time when the middle class was made up of merchants and skilled workers - like blacksmiths. Everyone else was either royalty, the peasantry, or the Pope.

The industrial revolution began when textile manufacture moved from homes to a new dominion called a factory. According to Yale University,

In the mid-1760s the textile industry began to experience rapid change. James Hargreaves' jenny, a device which enabled the operator to simultaneously spin dozens of threads, was readily adopted. By 1788 nearly 20,000 of them were being employed in England.

People (mainly women) who would have lived their entire lives in a small village moved to the cities to participate in - and be exploited by - the capitalists who built the factories and sold the output.

In the 21st century, Western factory workers, merchants, small business owners which include farmers are the middle class - lots of them making well above $50,000 per year.

I don't read much whining coming from these middle class Americans. They are paying their bills, sending their kids to school, buying cars and clothes, and watching HD-TVs.

If the President wants to be remembered for anything positive it will not be dividing the middle class from the upper class; it will be by finding a way to help those at the lowest levels of our economy to climb into the middle class.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Tons of links. To the VOA, to Politico, to CNN, to that WaPo essay and to the scholarly piece from Yale.edu. Also a Mullfoto from our trip out west to see the grandchildren and, specifically, the grand-dog.