Three Signs of the Vanishing Middle Class in the U.S.

The New York Times today featured a story about the role of public-sector jobs in areas where the private economy is only producing minimum wage jobs with no benefits.

The article documents the challenges facing workers in southern Ohio and highlights three areas where average workers in the private sector have lost considerable ground over the last 30 years: wages, pensions and health care.

“Wages at the bottom of the labor market have stagnated since 1970, with inflation gobbling up gains made over the years. The federal minimum wage buys a lot less today; it represented just 38 percent of the average hourly wage for private, nonsupervisory workers in 2010, down from 47 percent in 1970, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.”


“Pensions have shriveled. In 1985, medium- and large-size companies paid full pensions to four out of five workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2010, that number was down to one in three. Four out of five public workers still receive the full benefit.”


“A third of all private-sector workers under 30 have no health insurance, up from 15 percent in 1988, according to the census data.”

As workers interviewed by the Times have had the misfortune of realizing, many of the jobs  that remain after factories close  are low-wage service jobs that rarely provide benefits such as health care or pensions. And now with their attacks on public sector unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, ultra conservative politicians are hoping to gain the upper hand and start chipping away at health benefits and pensions for teachers and other public service employees.

“These politicians are telling millions of Wisconsin’s families that they don’t deserve job security, that they don’t deserve health care benefits, and that they don’t deserve wages that can put food on their tables,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, following the governor of Wisconsin’s signing of a bill stripping away collective bargaining rights of public employees in that state. “Their actions are despicable and show that some politicians are willing to sacrifice their own constituents’ financial security in the name of ideological posturing.”

But these assaults on the middle class will not go unchallenged.

“Wisconsinites and the nation are responding appropriately but forcefully to the rollback of their civil and human rights,” said Henderson. “The public outrage, the recall campaigns aimed at these senators and at Gov. Walker, and the outpouring of support from Americans of all backgrounds are just the beginning. The civil and human rights community stands with the working people of Wisconsin as we fight tooth and nail against these backward-looking proposals.”