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America's drowning middle class
The new normal for many U.S. families is economic desperation, says Edward Luce in the Financial Times
It's never been a worse time to be middle-class, says Edward Luce in the Financial Times.
It's never been a worse time to be middle-class, says Edward Luce in the Financial Times.
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ome people think the Great Recession has killed the American dream, says Edward Luce in the Financial Times. The truth is that "the slow economic strangulation" of the U.S. middle class began a generation ago, and the current economic downturn has only exacerbated the situation. Due to what economists call "median wage stagnation," the annual incomes of the bottom 90 percent of U.S. families have been essentially flat since 1973 — the median U.S. income actually dropped by $2,000 in the economy's last expansion, between 2002 and 2007. While most Americans have been "treading water," the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent have tripled. It sounds "profoundly un-American," but the reality is that most of the middle class is now slowly working its way down the income ladder. Here, an excerpt:

Technically speaking, Mark Freeman should count himself among the ­luckiest ­people on the planet. The 52-year-old lives with his family on a tree-lined street in his own home in the heart of the wealthiest country in the world. When he is hungry, he eats. When it gets hot, he turns on the air-conditioning. When he wants to look something up, he surfs the internet...

Yet somehow things don’t feel so good any more. Last year the bank tried to repossess the Freemans’ home even though they were only three months in arrears. Their son, Andy, was recently knocked off his mother’s health insurance and only painfully reinstated for a large fee. And, much like the boarded-up houses that signal America’s epidemic of foreclosures, the drug dealings and shootings that were once remote from their neighbourhood are edging ever closer, a block at a time...

Mention middle-class America and most foreigners envision something timeless and manicured, from The Brady Bunch, say, or Desperate Housewives in which teenagers drive to school in sports cars and the girls are always cheerleading. This might approximate how some in the top 10 per cent live. The rest live like the Freemans. Or worse.

Read the full article at the Financial Times.

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