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A particularly interesting poll came out yesterday (and, why yes, that is the link to it!) from the Pew Research Center in its section on Social and Demographic Trends. For the first time, under 50% of the sample (in this case of 1287 people) defines itself as “middle class.” (Left unaddressed is what proportion of the 49% who still do so are fooling themselves, given their debts.) Fully 32% now say that their in the lower classes, which is not an easy thing for people to admit, especially for the first time.
Fully 85% of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. Of those who feel this way, 62% say “a lot” of the blame lies with Congress, while 54% say the same about banks and financial institutions, 47% about large corporations, 44% about the Bush administration, 39% about foreign competition and 34% about the Obama administration. Just 8% blame the middle class itself a lot.
Their downbeat take on their economic situation comes at the end of a decade in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, mean family incomes declined for Americans in all income tiers. But the middle-income tier—defined in this Pew Research analysis as all adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median — is the only one that also shrunk in size, a trend that has continued over the past four decades.
Because I want to limit myself to the generally safe four paragraphs of direct quotation, I’m going to leave by far most of the piece uncommented upon. You really ought to go read it for yourself; it might make for a good discussion! But because you might be interested in who people blame for their slipping out of the middle class (or other economic problems, here’s a couple of paragraphs on that (go to the source for footnotes):
As the 2012 presidential campaign heads toward the party conventions and the fall climax, no group has been the target of more electioneering appeals than America’s beleaguered middle class. The Pew Research survey finds that neither candidate has sealed the deal with middle-class adults but that President Obama is in somewhat better shape than his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
About half (52%) of adults who self-identify as middle class say they believe Obama’s policies in a second term would help the middle class, while 39% say they would not help. By comparison, 42% say that Romney’s election would help the middle class, while 40% say it would not help. There is much more variance in the judgments of the middle class about the likely impact of the two candidates’ policies on the wealthy and the poor. Fully seven-in-ten (71%) middle-class respondents say Romney’s policies would help the wealthy, while just a third (33%) say they would help the poor. Judgments about Obama tilt the opposite way. Roughly four-in-ten (38%) middle-class respondents say his policies would help the wealthy, and about six-in-ten (62%) say they would help the poor.
Abortion policy, Medicare, Iran — all sorts of issues are buzzing around right now as potential deciding ones in this upcoming election. But the biggest is people’s perception of their own economic fate and why, for so many, it is lurching downward. As these paragraphs show, it looks like a lot of them have figured it out.
The Occupy movement is no longer as au courant as it was eleven months ago, having gotten bogged down in fights with a perplexingly exercised police system over its right to protest. It’s worth remembering that in September and October and for a while beyond, the vanishing middle class — increased stratification and inequality — was one of its major themes. It looks like that theme is still relevant to voters, if political leaders both traditional and insurgent are willing to raise it.