What Happened to Middle Class America? – The Business of Life (Episode 7) – Vice News Published on Jul 22, 2015

As we inch closer to the 2016 election, presidential candidates and politicians have begun to phase out the term “middle class” from their vocabulary. Terms like “everyday Americans” and “hard-working taxpayers” are replacing the once-common term. “Middle Class,” a phrase that once evoked a sense of optimism, shared wealth, and the American Dream, now invokes a sense of anxiety, and an uncertain future. Why? Because, as automation replaces jobs and the income gap widens, the middle class is in a catastrophic state of decline.

On this episode of the Business of Life, we’ll get to the bottom of just what the “middle class” is: how to get in, how to stay in, and why so many Americans are falling out. Joined by David Madland of the Center for American Progress, Reporter Charlie LeDuff, and Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation.

Watch “Why is College So Expensive? (Episode 6)” – http://bit.ly/1gEn2ZS

Trickle-down’s middle-class massacre:  Failure of conservative economics should discredit these bankrupt ideas forever – DAVID MADLAND SATURDAY, JUN 13, 2015 03:30 AM PDT

Supply-side economics hollowed out the middle class. It’s time to stop listening to the architects of inequality

Trickle-down's middle-class massacre: Failure of conservative economics should discredit these bankrupt ideas forever

On April 30, 2012, Edward Conard, a former partner for the financial management company Bain Capital and a multimillionaire who retired at age 51, sat across from Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” to promote his new book. Conard smiled and stared intently through his black-rimmed glasses as Jon Stewart, the liberal host of the comedy show, held up his book and described its contents. Conard’s book argued that America’s economy would be stronger if people like Conard were even richer and the country had even higher levels of economic inequality.

Stewart was puzzled by Conard’s argument and joked that it didn’t seem right because inequality in the United States was approaching the level in countries with “kidnapping-based economies,” generating laughter in the audience. Then Stewart shifted to an opening that would give Conard a chance to explain himself. “My question to you about the premise of the book,” Stewart stated, pausing for effect before setting up his punch line, “is huh?”

Conard laughed along with the audience, and then launched into his argument that great rewards for the “most talented” people were the secret to America’s success. Making the rich richer is good for everyone, he claimed, because high levels of inequality provide strong incentives for risk taking and innovation that are essential for economic growth.

Though Conard’s comments were provocative—indeed his book tour generated significant press, including a multipage feature in the New York Times Magazine—he was merely stating the barely hidden premise underlying supply-side economics. Supply-side economics, the misguided theory that has controlled economic policymaking for the past three decades, is built on the idea that inequality is good. Tax cuts for the rich and less regulation of business supposedly provide incentives for the wealthy to invest and work more. Enabling “job creators” to get richer helps us all, the theory goes.


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On The Line: Charlie LeDuff Discusses Inequality in America – Published on Jun 8, 2015

It wasn’t too long ago that American power and the wealth of the nation was created by cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Newark. Now, as wealth has been concentrated among the elite, these and many American cities are in decline. Infrastructure is crumbling, the middle class is struggling, and the effects of urban poverty are becoming harder to ignore.

VICE News contributor Charlie LeDuff (https://twitter.com/charlieleduff) looks at these issues in his work for VICE News and joined On The Line to take your questions.

Read “Baltimore, Wilmington, Philly, and Newark — Inside the Forgotten Corridor” – http://bit.ly/1BIaCUR

Historian Says Don’t ‘Sanitize’ How Our Government Created Ghettos – MAY 14, 2015 3:16 PM ET

A helicopter flies over a section of Baltimore affected by riots. Richard Rothstein writes that recent unrest in Baltimore is the legacy of a century of federal, state and local policies designed to "quarantine Baltimore's black population in isolated slums."

A helicopter flies over a section of Baltimore affected by riots. Richard Rothstein writes that recent unrest in Baltimore is the legacy of a century of federal, state and local policies designed to “quarantine Baltimore’s black population in isolated slums.”

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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Fifty years after the repeal of Jim Crow, many African-Americans still live in segregated ghettos in the country’s metropolitan areas. Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America.

“We have a myth today that the ghettos in metropolitan areas around the country are what the Supreme Court calls ‘de-facto’ — just the accident of the fact that people have not enough income to move into middle class neighborhoods or because real estate agents steered black and white families to different neighborhoods or because there was white flight,” Rothstein tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

“It was not the unintended effect of benign policies,” he says. “It was an explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government, and that’s the reason we have these ghettos today and we are reaping the fruits of those policies.”

Interview Highlights

On using the word “ghetto”

One of the ways in which we forget our history is by sanitizing our language and pretending that these problems don’t exist. We have always recognized that these were “ghettos.” A ghetto is, as I define it, a neighborhood which is homogeneous and from which there are serious barriers to exit. That’s the technical definition of a ghetto.

Robert Weaver, the first African-American member of the Cabinet appointed by President Johnson as his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, described many of the policies that I’ve described today in a book he published in 1948 called The Negro Ghetto.

The Kerner Commission referred to the ghetto.

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Nashville’s boom prices out low-income, middle class residents – by Peter Moskowitz March 29, 2015 5:00AM ET

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NASHVILLE — Raydhira Abreu, a middle-class Nashvillian who works as a leasing agent for an affordable housing developer in the city, says that without being able to live in one of her company’s units, she would be forced to leave the city.

“Even with the money I’m making now, I don’t think I could afford to live here,” she said. “We have zero apartments, and every day there’s more and more demand.”

Nashville is rising in national profile and quite literally: 30-story condominium towers are popping up downtown, modest homes are being torn down and replaced with 3,000-square-foot modern houses in East Nashville, and new restaurants, bars and clubs are opening seemingly every week.

While the city is booming, incomes haven’t kept pace with costs. A city studyfound that the median family income in the Nashville area rose 6 percent from 2000 to 2013 but rents rose 21 percent for four-bedroom apartments and 39 percent for one-bedrooms.

About 19 percent of city residents live below the poverty line — a rate slightly higher than for the rest of the nation — but that doesn’t take into account the higher cost of living in the city. Activists and experts say the boom is pricing out low- and middle-income Nashvillians and that the city needs to seriously ramp up its affordable housing programs if it hopes to avoid displacement.

The city is one of the fastest-growing rental markets in the nation, according to housing website Zillow, and occupancy rates were 98 percent in 2014. And unlike some other fast-growing cities like New York and Washington, Nashville doesn’t require developers to set aside units for affordable housing in new buildings that receive tax or other subsidies.

Nashville’s economic rise can be traced at least in part to cooperation between the city and the Chamber of Commerce to draw a slew of companies of all kinds downtown. Their plan, called Partnership 2020, has the goal of attracting about 120,000 new people to the region, creating 50,000 jobs and getting at least 150 companies to relocate from other parts of the country and state by 2016. Nashville’s current population is about 635,000.

So far, it seems to be working. The city has gone from having a median household income 5 percent below the U.S. average to 7 percent above it since 2011, according to the Chamber. And major companies have been moving to Nashville in droves.

Nashville’s bids to boost economic growth have been largely successful but have come at a price. One of the biggest efforts was the 350,000-square-foot Music City Center, a convention center downtown that cost Nashville $623 million. The city has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, including to the  ABC TV series “Nashville” and most recently a $50 million break to tire manufacturer Bridgestone to woo the company downtown from its suburban headquarters.

But in some places — a dilapidated apartment building for seniors downtown, an overcrowded Section 8 apartment in the east or at Operation Stand Down, a veterans’ assistance nonprofit in the southern section of the city, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

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Making a Mockery of the American Dream – By Mortimer B. Zuckerman March 27, 2015 | 12:30 p.m. EDT

The top earners thrive while middle class Americans quickly fall behind.

Economic progress can’t only grow here. — The Associated Press

Economic progress can’t only grow here.

The American economy has not worked for the average family since the end of the Clinton administration. Adjusted for inflation, median earnings of men working full-time year-round are where they were in 1980. That’s unfair because productivity has been rising for two decades but the benefit has been confined to the already well-off. Today, income inequality in the U.S. exceeds any other democracy in the developed world. Two-thirds of American families earning less than $30,000 a year are often in crisis mode when the bills come in, but the misery is conspicuously not shared. In 1944 the top 1 percent earned 11 percent of all income. By 2012, it was 23 percent of the nation’s income. The mismatch between reward and effort makes a mockery of the American dream.

Here it is in a nutshell for our disappointing new century. Real output per person from 2000 to 2011 rose nearly 2.5 percent a year, but real pay increased less than 1 percent over the same period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted for inflation, incomes in 2014 are still roughly $2,100 lower than when President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and $3,600 lower than when President George W. Bush took office eight years earlier.

Nationally, inflation-adjusted wages at the median of the earnings distribution curve have either fallen or barely risen in 35 years going back as far as 1979. Thirty-five years! So when were the good times? It wasn’t so bad from 1947 to 1973. Labor productivity rose 2.8 percent per year but real hourly compensation was only a little behind then, rising 2.6 percent. But now we are well and truly in the age of inequality with little prospect of a high-pressure economy boosting the demand for labor, and hence pay.

The Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 seems to have initiated an era of 2 percent annual growth, well below our historical average. Even prolonged low interest rates have not enticed a new consumer credit cycle. Nor have capital gains in the hands of the wealthy generated meaningful growth in spending. Though productivity has outpaced wages, it has not been that great. Right now the predictions are that productivity will stay in the low range of around 1.6 percent annual growth, even with the explosion of the digital world. As MIT economist Robert Solow defines it, “evidence of the importance of the digital revolution is everywhere except in the productivity numbers.” The United States is now a 1 percent to 2 percent growth economy – a low-growth level more commonly associated with Europe

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A Chicago Community Puts Mixed-Income Housing To The Test FEBRUARY 05, 2015 3:51 AM ET


A resident of Lathrop Homes leaves one of the few occupied buildings in the development. The city wants to redevelop the public housing as mixed use, and offered vouchers to encourage residents to relocate. Cheryl Corley/NPR


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Right next to the Chicago River on the city’s North Side, Lathrop Homes, with its black, white and Latino residents, is considered the city’s most diverse public housing.

It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. And with 925 low-rise units on about 30 acres, it’s big. But these days, only a fraction of those apartments are occupied.

Miguel Suarez has lived in Lathrop Homes for 25 years. He says the Chicago Housing Authority offered people housing vouchers to move elsewhere when they decided that Lathrop would be rehabbed — part of a massive effort to revamp public housing in the city.

But residents at Lathrop say they don’t live in a distressed neighborhood that needs change — so they are fighting to keep their homes intact.

The New Face Of Public Housing

It’s been two decades since the federal government’s HOPE VI Programoffered public housing authorities around the nation money to tear down blighted public housing projects.

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Strong dollar: The good, the bad and the ugly – by Ben Piven February 4, 2015 5:00AM ET

Despite the lack of real wage increases and a shrinking middle class, the United States’ 5 percent growth in GDP during part of 2014 has economists doing cartwheels. The stock market is rising, unemployment is falling and inflation is nowhere to be seen.

The booming dollar appears especially strong when compared with the euro, its main rival currency, which dropped to an 11-year low of $1.13 last month on increasingly dire forecasts for the continent. The dollar is also rallying relative to the British pound, Japanese yen, Chinese renminbi and many other currencies. The yen has slid more than 15 percent against the dollar in the last six months.

The dollar’s power suggests international confidence in America’s main economic indicators. With Europe’s economy struggling and China’s rapid growth slowing, skittish investors have flocked to the dollar as a safe bet. But experts say the impact of a stronger dollar is mixed. While it means many raw materials and other imports are cheaper for U.S. firms, it also means American exports are less attractive to foreign buyers.

The dollar’s rise is not necessarily a “favorable development,” said economist James Hamilton, of the University of California at San Diego. “It makes our exports less competitive.”

Percentage change of other major currencies against the US dollar
Jan. 2, 2014Feb. 14, 2014Mar. 31, 2014May. 12, 2014Jun. 24, 2014Aug. 6, 2014Sep. 18, 2014Oct. 31, 2014Dec. 16, 2014Feb. 3, 2015-20%-15%-10%-5%0%5%

U.S. multinational companies that rely heavily on overseas sales — such as airlines and beverage manufacturers — are hurt by the strong dollar. This is because their consumer goods are sold in many local currencies whose value is dropping. Raising prices is always an option, but making items less affordable could reduce sales. Most vulnerable are corporations with significant sales in countries like Venezuela and Russia, where local currency declines have been exceptionally sharp.

U.S. Steel reported lower fourth quarter profits due to the strong dollar, and Johnson & Johnson also said it faced slower sales due to a negative currency impact. Apple and Google both warned about “strong currency headwinds.”

American cars are one of many big-ticket items that could become more expensive for foreign consumers. Eventually this could affect U.S. automobile manufacturers, but given the rapidly changing currency situation, the effect on prices overseas and at home is hard to predict.

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The White House 2016 Budget Includes Big Funding for Antibiotic Resistance – BY MARYN MCKENNA 01.31.15 ]

Next week, President Barack Obama will unveil his full budget request for the coming fiscal year. When he does, he’ll also reveal details of how his administration plans to fund the national strategy for combating antibiotic resistance that the White House released last autumn.

Roman Boed (CC), Flickr

 Roman Boed (CC), Flickr


Here’s what we know so far, based on a fact sheet that the White House released earlier this week:

The total request is $1.2 billion, “nearly doubling” current funding, and intended for multiple agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services. Here’s how that breaks down:

  • $650 million shared by the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority;
  • $280 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • $85 million at the Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • $77 million for the US Department of Agriculture;
  • $75 million for the Department of Defense;
  • $47 million for the Food and Drug Administration.

Much of the coverage of the White House release so far seems to have focused on research into new drugs, probably because the fact sheet mentions the very high profile announcement of the new antibiotic compound teixobactin (and the novel development technique that led to its discovery). But the White House plan goes beyond drug development — which is wise because, let’s face it, evolution pretty much always wins. Any new compound or drug family may extend the leaps in the game of leapfrog between drugs and bugs, but it is unlikely to end the game permanently.

The other things the White House will request break down into these categories: stewardship, or preserving existing drugs; surveillance and reporting, tracking drug use and the emergence of resistance; and funding innovation, including new drugs and clinical-trial designs.

A few of the details:

  • Building regional collaborations that will help hospitals, and nursing homes and long-term care institutions, recognize when they are passing patients carrying resistant bacteria back and forth among them.
  • Creating point-of-care or rapid diagnostics to reduce empiric prescribing — that is, prescriptions that doctors write in advance of receiving test results, because those take a few days, but which may increase resistance if they chose wrong.
  • Researching how to create stewardship programs that work, reducing antibiotic use in an institution, without causing the staff to feel infantilized or coerced.
  • Expanding resistance-prevention research at the VA, which already possesses possibly the best such program in the country.
  • Funding research into new vaccines and non-antibiotic treatments.

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The Upper Middle Class Is Ruining America – By Reihan Salam JAN. 30 2015 12:38 PM

And I want it to stop.

 Everyone who’€™s entitled to the good life raise their hands. Photo by Goodshoot/Thinkstock

Everyone who’€™s entitled to the good life raise their hands.
Photo by Goodshoot/Thinkstock

I first encountered the upper middle class when I attended a big magnet high school in Manhattan that attracted a decent number of brainy, better-off kids whose parents preferred not to pay private-school tuition. Growing up in an immigrant household, I’d felt largely immune to class distinctions. Before high school, some of the kids I knew were somewhat worse off, and others were somewhat better off than most, but we generally all fell into the same lower-middle- or middle-middle-class milieu. So high school was a revelation. Status distinctions that had been entirely obscure to me came into focus. Everything about you—the clothes you wore, the music you listened to, the way you pronounced things—turned out to be a clear marker of where you were from and whether you were worth knowing.

By the time I made it to a selective college, I found myself entirely surrounded by this upper-middle-class tribe. My fellow students and my professors were overwhelmingly drawn from comfortably affluent families hailing from an almost laughably small number of comfortably affluent neighborhoods, mostly in and around big coastal cities. Though virtually all of these polite, well-groomed people were politically liberal, I sensed that their gut political instincts were all about protecting what they had and scratching out the eyeballs of anyone who dared to suggest taking it away from them. I can’t say I liked these people as a group. Yet without really reflecting on it, I felt that it was inevitable that I would live among them, and that’s pretty much exactly what’s happened.

So allow me to unburden myself. I’ve had a lot of time to observe and think about the upper middle class, and though many of the upper-middle-class individuals I’ve come to know are good, decent people, I’ve come to the conclusion that upper-middle-class Americans threaten to destroy everything that is best in our country. And I want them to stop.

Who counts as upper middle class? It depends. Back in 2013, one surveyfound that 85 percent of Americans saw themselves as part of a broad middle class, stretching from lower middle (26 percent) to middle middle (46 percent) to upper middle (12 percent). We could define it by income—say, all single adults who earn more than $100,000 a year, or all married couples that earn more than $200,000—but that’s too crude. Let’s just say that upper-middle-class status is a state of mind. We’re talking about families that earn well into the six-figure range yet don’t feel rich, either because of their student loan debt or the enormous cost of the amenities they consider nonnegotiable: living in well-above-average school districts for those with children or living in “cool” neighborhoods for those without.