The term "middle class" may be the most popular two words in this year's presidential campaign. President Obama and Mitt Romney use it repeatedly in their campaign appearances including the acceptance speeches at their party's national convention. So do their wives and advisors. All are appealing to the middle class to get their vote, and it's easy to see why.
The middle class is the single biggest voting block in this country, but its size has been shrinking.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that those in the "middle-income tier [of income]" account for 61 percent of adults in the U.S. in 1971 but only 51 percent today, and their share of the American income economic pie declined from 62 percent a decade ago to 45 percent today.
The decline of the middle is the focus of a new book by Donald Barlett and James Steele, "The Betrayal of the American Dream," which found that policymakers in in both political parties and business leaders are guilty of shortchanging the middle class.
"The economy has bounced back but not middle class incomes," James Steele told The Daily Ticker, referring to what's happened since the depths of the Great Recession.
The turning point, say Steele and Barlett, was June 1979, more than a year before Ronald Reagan was elected president. The number of people working in U.S. factories then set a new record (which hasn't been topped since) then taxes for the wealthiest Americans began to fall sharply. Since then, more jobs have moved overseas, pensions have shrunk or have been eliminated and the gap between the top 1% and the middle class has widened.
Barlett calls it a "straight downward spiral for the middle class."
Neither Barlett nor Steele is hopeful that change they can believe in will occur, but they say there are differences between the two presidential candidates that are important for the middle class.
"Taxes are one of few issues where the parties have a clear difference of opinion," says Steele. "If more tax cuts are granted to the wealthy…it will further exacerbate the deficit and further create more inequality in this country."
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