The Rise and Fall of America’s Middle Class

By Jim Hightower | ( | – –

The middle class was built by movements — and can be rebuilt by movements.

Ever since 1776, the “common yeoman” — America’s middle class — has been hailed as the virtuous heart and backbone of our nation.

How ironic, since it took 150 years before we actually created a broad middle class. Before the 1930s, most Americans were poor, or near poor.

And, yes, “created” is the correct term for how our middle class came to be. It was pushed by two historic forces of social transformation.

First, the devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers, and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the 1929 crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of union rights, Social Security, and other tools that empowered ordinary Americans to begin rising up from poverty.

Second, the government’s national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs and opportunities for millions, opening people’s eyes, boosting confidence, and raising expectations.

Striking workers in Gary, Indiana, 1919. (Photo: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons)

A post-war rise in unionism, the passage of the GI Bill, a housing program, and other progressive actions led to a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years, creating a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans by the late 1970s.

Then — phfffft — Washington’s commitment to a middle class suddenly fizzled.

In the 1980s, Reagan Republicans — and many Democrats — switched from supporting egalitarianism to backing the elitism of their corporate donors. Ever since, they’ve steadily disempowered workers and enthroned the rich, thus imposing today’s abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.

Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That’s the momentous struggle that calls us to action in this political year.

Jim Hightower, an OtherWords columnist, is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown



Related video added by Informed Comment:

Elizabeth Warren: The GOP Tax Bill Is For The Rich, And No One Else (HBO)

2 Responses

  1. Sometimes, a movement creates people who are the negation of the people who were in the movement. The unions created workers so wealthy that they could try to run from their class identity. The progressive critics of urban decay germinated the idea of the suburb as the solution, and created commuting Americans so racist and isolated from diversity that they were practically the footsoldiers of the Reagan revolution.

    We all recall how the generation that endured the Depression and WW2 swore their children would never have to struggle as they did – thus guaranteeing that the latter would live so differently as to have nothing in common with their parents, inaugurating the Generation Gap and the great countercultural uprising and then the great backlash under which we still live today.

  2. Yet, Russian intelligence asset Trump claims to be the champion of the working class and his brain-dead base BELIEVES him while his maladministration openly promotes “today’s abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.” in plain sight.


Comments are closed.