The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the great middle class that built houses and cars and highways and rocket ships keeps slip-sliding away.
In an economy and a business environment that less and less values, or has need for, the worker ethic that made America the most envied nation on the planet, the divide between the well-off and everyone else continues to widen. What’s left of the middle class is working harder than ever before, working paycheck to paycheck, with less to show for it all (given inflation, which government analysts continue to term as “negligible,” and salaries that have been stagnant for years). Gas prices are through the roof, ditto for health care and child care and college tuition … and on and on. One analysis shows the average U.S. worker earning $25 per week less today than in 1973.
Those who have jobs feel increasingly threatened as automation increases, as employers push workers to do more and more so they won’t have to hire additional workers, and as millions more have only part-time jobs or are forced to work as “independent contractors” so employers won’t have to pay Social Security, worker compensation, and other costs.
At a time when major corporations are sitting on mountains of cash from record profits and often as not keeping billions in profits offshore to evade paying U.S. taxes, they’re keeping employee ranks at bare bones levels and demanding more from employees.
In the last decade, household income over a large portion of the U.S. has declined significantly. In the early 1970s, the average family managed well on just one income; today, most families are two-paycheck, and it’s still a struggle to make ends meet. Hundreds of thousands of baby boomers are hitting retirement age and a substantial portion of them don’t have the financial wherewithal to support themselves in retirement.
An August 2012 report by the Pew Research Center showed only half of American households ranking as middle-income, down from 61 percent in the 1970s, and in the last 10 years middle class income dropped by 5 percent and total wealth by 28 percent. Last December’s Census Report listed nearly 150 million people as low income or earning below the poverty level.
At the other end of the spectrum, the wealth of the richest 1 percent has continued to significantly outpace the general population even while U.S. and world economies were crashing and burning.
In 2010, according to the 2012 Global Wealth Report, the U.S. still ranked as the world’s No. 1 economy, but of 141 countries it had the fourth highest degree of wealth inequality, behind Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
Of 16,000 “centa-millionaires” (those with $100 million or more in assets), the U.S. ranked first with 17,100, but China was rapidly catching up, with 14,000.