The features editor of The Atlantic, Dan Peck, has recently published a mammoth article entitled "Can the Middle Class Be Saved?"
The article is murky just where most U.S. writing about class is murky: "middle-class" here seems to include everyone who isn't either trapped in absolute destitution or living the life of the consuming elite. Few distinctions between various "middle" strata are clarified; in fact the article opines these are disappearing. The result is undifferentiated muddle. The utterly poor are invisible; the elite are floating above the flailing masses in Peck's world. Basically, Peck's "middle class" seems to include anyone who can hold a job, at least sporadically, but who doesn't earn a comfortable living wage. Peck believes this amounts to about 70 percent of us.
Peck thinks his "middle class" is in trouble -- and provides various proposed remedies. I'll spare you the remedies: they are inadequate on their face to what he describes, technocratic incremental "solutions" offered from on high. All this denies the agency of "middle class" people themselves. There's nary a mention of unions or organizing here. Our betters will discern what we ought to do and how we should live ...
Yet for all my quarrels with this article, I would urge anyone concerned with our current economic and social predicament to read it -- and we should all be very concerned. It's a great catalog of social observations and statistics that throw light on the depths we've sunk into while the very rich got richer over the last 30 years. For example:
We tend to picture the decline of living wage jobs as being particularly deep in manufacturing and we're not wrong, but the reality is more complex than just that Chinese and Indian workers are now making goods for peanuts. Production of goods has simply changed, irrevocably.
Factories don't need laboring people any more. More specifically, they don't employ men anymore:
Not to surprisingly, the decline of male employment is playing hell with family life.
White America used to decry the racially coded pathologies of the "underclass." What do you know? -- if white men without fancy college educations can't get and keep living wage jobs, their prospects begin to look like those of Black and brown men stuck in a racial ghetto. Large swathes of the population have been rendered essentially superfluous in the emerging capitalist post-industrial economy. That doesn't seem like a development that can be corrected by some tinkering around the edges. Nor do we yet have a picture of what might replace this unsustainable morass. But common sense says that the people who got us into this aren't likely to get us out of it.