The American middle class is in trouble.
The middle-class share of national income has fallen, middle-class wages are stagnant, and the middle class in the United States is no longer the world’s wealthiest.
But income is only one side of the story. The cost of being in the middle class—and of maintaining a middle-class standard of living—is rising fast too. For fundamental needs such as child care and health care, costs have risen dramatically over the past few decades, taking up larger shares of family budgets. The reality is that the middle class is being squeezed. As this report will show, for a married couple with two children, the costs of key elements of middle-class security—child care, higher education, health care, housing, and retirement—rose by more than $10,000 in the 12 years from 2000 to 2012, at a time when this family’s income was stagnant.
As sharp as this squeeze can be, the pain does not stop at one family, or even at millions of families. Because of the critical role that middle-class consumers play in creating aggregate demand, the American economy is in trouble when the American middle class is in trouble. And the long-term health of the U.S. economy is at risk if financially squeezed families cannot afford—and smart public policies do not support—developing the next generation of America’s workforce. It is this workforce that will lead the United States in an increasingly open and competitive global economy…
American workers have been squeezed for decades when it comes to take-home pay, even before 2007 and the Great Recession. The financial crisis and the Great Recession itself then took a catastrophic toll on millions of Americans, as unemployment skyrocketed and trillions of dollars in household wealth vanished. And while the economy has picked up since bottoming out in 2009, and private-sector job growth began to bounce back in 2010, the gains from this postcrash period have been strikingly unequal. Ninety-five percent of all income gains since the start of the recovery have accrued to the top 1 percent of U.S. households.
When looking at the changes in consumer price indices for core elements of middle-class security, it is painfully easy to see the squeeze in action; prices for many cornerstones of middle-class security have risen dramatically at the same time that real incomes have fallen.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The Middle-Class Squeeze | Center for American Progress.