Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Where The Middle Class Is Shrinking

The article Where the Middle Class Is Shrinking by Quoctrung Bui discusses what is happening to the middle class in various areas around the country It uses graphs to visualize data in three scenarios, where the middle class falss and the upper class rises, where the middle class falls and the lower class rises and where the middle class falls the upper class and lower class both rise. In the first Bui discusses how in some areas a decline in the middle class does not necessarily mean a decline in income. In some the middle class has been replaced by the upper class which is currently income above 125k a year for a three person household. There isn’t one factor that explains these areas, for some like in Midland Tex. Its oil, while others have strong white collar sectors like the government in D.C. and tech in the Bay area. Where the middle class falls and the lower class rises the opposite is true, with falls in the middle class directly translating into a rise in the lower class, and a single factor, a decline in manufacturing, is a common thread in these places. In some areas both are happening, when the middle class falls both the upper and lower class rises, and the middle class is in essence hollowed out. This is caused by a mixture of technological change and globalization which rewards people whose jobs cannot be outsourced or automated but punishes those that can. Nearly half of the metro areas that Pew studied have experienced this kind of hollowing.

            This story and these graphs use primarily a mix of qualitative and quantitative reasoning and do not provide anecdotes or specific experiences of families in these metro areas. In addition although it does outline trends that correlate with increase or decrease in the middle and lower classes it does not conclusively say that these changes cause the shifts in the middle class. The data is used to argue that the middle class is shrinking, and in some areas with large percentages of white collar jobs this is actually a good thing, while in others with high percentages of low skilled job it is the opposite, and is negative. However the most important takeaway is the idea of the hollowing out of the middle class. The middle class is being cleaved into those who are moving upwards, and those who are moving downwards. Not many people are able to stay in the exact middle, and this is representative of the massive wealth inequality we see today in our economy. This has been a main talking point for many of the candidates throughout this election cycle, and all seem to be saying that the middle class is shrinking, implying that the people at the top are getting richer, and the people at the bottom are getting poorer. This is true but ignores the fact that the middle class is really being separated, and the ultra rich are getting richer but so are some people in the middle class. The real problem is how do we stop the separation of the middle class and make growth equitable across incomes. This article could have been used to support the idea that we need to stop cutting taxes for the rich and practicing failed trickle down economics, but instead is merely framed as data telling a story. There are no policy suggestions and no bias about who to vote for, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusion about data alone.  

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