The Great American Middle-class Mirage

Throughout most of history the world’s great societies have been symbolically formed as a pyramid, with a few outlandishly wealthy at the top, more moderately well off in the middle and a broad base of folks whose living conditions have been little better than the lowly serfs of the middle ages. But then along came World War Two out of which rose the United States of America, as the greatest super power the world has ever known. The aftermath of the most destructive war in world history had briefly set conditions whereby American manufacturing was unrivaled.

With domestic businesses humming as never before it allowed unions to rise in power. Corporations somewhat resisted the union as usual, but with super high profits rolling in capital was reluctant to fight tooth and nail the demands of labor for a significant piece of the luxurious pie. This of course led to the pronounced middle-class bubble of the second half of the last century. It was a time when I, and millions of other non-college graduates, working in the manufacturing sector of the economy were earning 25 to 30 dollars an hour as semi skilled technicians.

Suddenly, as if pregnant, the societal pyramid lost its traditional shape. With a flood of high paying jobs the housing and auto markets boomed creating even more jobs. The snowballing effect, however, began to slow down in the early 1970s and by 1979 American manufacturing jobs peaked at 19.5 million workers. By 1983 the outward rushing tide of jobs was already down to 16.7 million. Since 2000 the industrial workforce has wither from around 16 million positions to less than 13 million.

With billions of folks around the world having long ago recovered from the ravages of World War Two and quite willing to work for a faction of America’s union wages, the United States lost, just from the beginning of the century alone, some 54, 000 manufacturing businesses to overseas operations. In other words the middle class mirage that lush manufacturing jobs had created evaporated, causing the societal pyramid to regain its traditional form and therefore resurrecting the great disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom of the social pyramid, that which we currently lament as income inequality.

Farther aggravating the collapse of the middleclass is the belief system that came into being during America’s heyday of manufacturing and more evenly shared wealth. And that conviction was that each succeeding generation was going to live a finer life than the proceeding generation. As reality, however, set in that this was not to be case and the new poor surged in numbers, the national mood become unsettled, ushering in the age of Trump World, with the Donald promising the kicked aside masses to make America great again.

Candidate Trump said that he was going to bring back jobs (apparently except for the extraterritorial manufacturing of his own wares) all the jobs that countries like Mexico and China had stolen from American workers, as if our domestic corporate masters had been forced at gunpoint by foreign nations to move their businesses overseas. Moreover Mr. Trump forgot to mention that in today’s business environment the real job killers are robots.

America is actually producing more high quality goods that other countries desire than ever before, yet because of robotic systems overseen by college trained engineers and programmers, the work is being completed by far less numbers than in the good old day when armies of high school educated employees were required for the same magnitude of work.

There is one silver lining for the American job market as it relates to decent paying jobs for the moderately educated. If Congress ever gets its act together, there is an enormous need to ungraded and maintain the nation’s critical infrastructure. Unfortunate Republicans have this ideological blind spot about always wishing to shrink the size of government into some bygone era fantasy —a mom and pop type operation.

The reality is that governments of modern societies are one of the largest employers and divers of economies. In point of fact when money is wisely spent on domestic endeavors it generates positive returns, thus increasing tax revenues that can drastically reduce deficits, rather than austerity measures and bloated defense spending pushed by the dimwitted that historically add to deficits.

Therefore for those sincerely wishing to bring back something of the prosperous middleclass days of old, politicians need to take a goodly chunk of that unneeded, wasted money going to the military industrial complex and put it to work repairing roads and bridges and sewer and water lines and the electric and cable grids. We can hardly ever totally recreate the middleclass mirage of the last century, but we can do a heck of a lot better today than we are presently doing. It is going to require that Republicans take off their ideological blinders and work with Democrats to get at least the basics done instead of constantly proposing the sorts of nonsensical programs that only profit their wealthy benefactors and erroneously play to their clueless base.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store