December 13, 2015
Okay, this one is a bit personal, but it reflects a larger issue. The Pew Research Center just put out a study showing that a declining share of the U.S. population is middle class, with greater percentages falling both in the upper and lower income category than was the case four decades ago. Washington Post columnist Dan Balz touted this declining middle class story as an explanation for the rise of Donald Trump.
The problem here is that there is nothing new in the Pew study. My friend and former boss, Larry Mishel, has been writing about wage stagnation for a quarter century at the Economic Policy Institute. The biannual volume, The State of Working America, has been tracking the pattern of stagnating middle class wages and family income (for the non-elderly middle class, income is wages) since 1990.
The Pew study added nothing new to this research. They simply constructed an arbitrary definition of middle class and found that fewer families fall within it.
Perhaps having a high budget “centrist” outfit like Pew tout this finding is the only way to get a centrist Washington Post columnist like Balz to pay attention, but it is a bit annoying when we see someone touted for discovering what was already well-known. Oh well, at least it creates good-paying jobs for people without discernible skills.