Middle Class News Roundup

It’s been a big week for the middle class. At least in my Internet meanderings.

I woke up to this:

The income of the typical American family dropped for the third year in a row, putting it at 1996 levels when adjusted for inflation, according to a new Census report. The median earnings for men who work full-time year round is particularly troubling, hitting a low not seen since 1978, when adjusted for inflation.

From the ThinkProgress Morning Briefing for September 14, 2011

Then I read this, in that same morning briefing, which is a nice antidote:

Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren announced her intention to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) in the 2012 election. Warren built President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from the ground up. In a statement, she said, “The pressures on middle-class families are worse than ever, but it is the big corporations that get their way in Washington. … I want to change that.”

(Here’s a link to her campaign website: http://www.elizabethwarren.com/)

An antidote to the antidote, this article was in my Yahoo! news slideshow this morning: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/How-to-Escape-the-MiddleClass-usnews-1418898375.html?x=0#mwpphu-container

Then I learned that Blue Chip companies aren’t doing anything to change the situation. What can they possibly do? (Besides promote changes in the tax code. Why would they do that? Or maybe manufacture products in U.S. factories. Again, why would they do that?) What they are doing is changing the way they market goods to respond to a market that’s looking more and more like an hourglass – haves on one side, have nots on the other. “The decline and fall of the American middle class” by Paul Harris sums it all up.

Before I read any of that, this Michelle Rhee tweet led me to an article in the Wall Street Journal from Sept. 12 titled “Middle Class Schools Miss the Mark” by Stephanie Banchero. Apparently, a few days before the 2010 Census data made headlines, Third Way put out a report called “Incomplete: How Middle Class Students Aren’t Making the Grade.” As the title suggests, it’s on the lackluster achievement of middle class public schools – defined broadly as schools with anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of students living in poverty. Apparently it’s not only the poor schools that need Superman. Middle income earners who send their children to underachieving public schools need an intervention as well.

Middle class public schools are “underachieving.” Whether or not that’s a reasonable claim to make, I’m waiting (cynically? logically?) for the specious reasoning that links the decline of the middle class to their lackluster education, rather than to an economy that has shifted capital from manufacturing – which requires a robust middle class – to finance – which has no such need. The education reform establishment is talking that way about people already in poverty. What’s to stop them from doing the same to the people next in line?

Highly educated yet middle class people like me, I guess.



8 Comments to “Middle Class News Roundup”

  1. Great Article, yes the middle class has been the center of attention these past few weeks. I think Warren is what this country needs at this time. I hear that Brown’s war chest is pretty healthy at this time, but hope that Warren can pull it off. You are so right in reference to the middle class and education. Once the middle class is destroyed, so goes the education in Urban and inner city neigborhoods. Thanks for educating the people!

    Cory McCray


  2. Our middle schools are doing ok except we do have larger class sizes (30 in Spanish and other foreign languages) that I think are too large to be effective. I live in Newton, which is a suburb of Boston. The scores in Massachusetts are very high for math and literacy.

    But to the point of the article, the middle class is getting poorer and this is true for everyone. And this will eventually affect the public schools in the area. We see it here in Newton. Our tax override a few years ago failed and we faced a $6 million dollar budget shortfall, of which our public school system is the biggest line items.


    • Thanks for the comment, PragmaticMom. From what little I know of Newton, it’s one of the best public school districts around. Are parents there organizing to push back against larger classes? Is growing class size a direct result of the budget shortfall?


  3. I had an interesting conversation with a teacher friend about how many fewer books kids today read in Honors 10th grade English than they did when I was in high school because of all the time devoted to testing and preparing the kids for the testing. In our town (Greenwich, CT) entire month of March devoted to CT Mastery Test, which is then used to bludgeon teachers and administrators, but provides no real value to students in terms of learning. We are producing a generation of kids who are lacking critical thinking skills because we’re spending more time testing them than helping them see connections and analyzing. Even worse, because all the books that kids read on the curriculum have to be approved by the BOE, they are stuck reading classics by dead white men that they cannot relate to instead of being able to intersperse them with more contemporary books that would stimulate their interest.


    • Thanks for posting! Do you know if there’s been any push back from parents in Greenwich against testing? I’m a fan of the western canon, so I’ll leave the dead white men be, but the school board choosing books sounds very “Footloose.” Is there a way for the community to make a case for books they want their children to read in school? Are parent or community groups organizing to do that kind of thing? Are they doing it to no avail? Or are families pretty passive about the status quo (which would prove Michelle Rhee’s point)?


  4. Yep, I’d read that review. Also interesting is David Sirota’s piece, “The bait and switch of school ‘reform’
    in Slate, Sept. 12. (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2011/09/12/reformmoney) Both pick up on the “civil rights issue of our era” thread that I wrote about August 31 on this blog. Glad people are starting to talk about the insane rhetoric of the reform agenda, not just their onslaught of numbers.


  5. I’d, for one, love a definition of “underachieveing.” Do they mean, say, exhibiting the inability to think critically because arts and civics and history and a whole host of other subjects in the traditional cannon of classical education are being eliminated in the name of “not leaving children behind”? Probably not, as I rarely see any intervention by the great minds in education to reintroduce these subjects into the curriculum.

    Or perhaps there’s a more nefarious plan to train a generation of kids to be thankful for the scraps of race-to-the-bottom-wage jobs that will exist in their future, since they are no longer taught any history of the labor movement and just how we got an 8-hour-day or the weekend or eliminated child labor.

    No, I’m not bitter.

    But I do have an interesting read for you Edit: http://t.co/zEuJFWC



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