Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Collapse of the American Middle Class

The April 23, 2014 New York Times has an article about how the American middle class, which used to be clearly the most well off on Earth, is now falling behind many other industrialized countries.  Along with the predictable explanations, there is one segment that I do not doubt at all:
Three broad factors appear to be driving much of the weak income performance in the United States. First, educational attainment in the United States has risen far more slowly than in much of the industrialized world over the last three decades, making it harder for the American economy to maintain its share of highly skilled, well-paying jobs.
Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 have literacy, numeracy and technology skills that are above average relative to 55- to 65-year-olds in rest of the industrialized world, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group. Younger Americans, though, are not keeping pace: Those between 16 and 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries, well behind their counterparts in Canada, Australia, Japan and Scandinavia and close to those in Italy and Spain.
Some of this difference may be that the rest of the world has caught up and passed us.  I compare the education that I received in the 1960s and 1970s, and what seems to be the education that many of my students have received in the last decade or so, and I am frankly saddened.

I suspect more important than the educational system inputs are the family structure inputs.  When I was growing up in Santa Monica (a much more working class community than today), kids from divorced homes were pretty exceptional.  Divorce was somewhat shameful.  There were parents with serious alcohol problems, I am sure, but that was also somewhat shameful.  The serious substance abuse problems that are now pretty much the norm among adults would have been unimaginable, at least in a middle class community.

1 comment:

  1. I agree about education in the US.

    But have you looked at the data presented in the article? It does not support the text of the article. The data clearly show that median income families in the US are far above the median incomes in other countries, and this is true at every percentile above the median. It is the lower percentiles that do not fair well.

    Also the article does nothing to explain why percentile data across countries is a very confused measure to begin with.

    But again, you're right about education. The first thing I noticed about the OWS crowd was -- boy, are they stupid.