What Killed the Middle Class?

Rounding up the usual suspects won’t restore a vibrant middle class.

What killed the middle class? The answer may well echo an Agatha Christie mystery: rather than there being one guilty party, it may be that each of the suspects participated in the demise of the middle class.

If you doubt the middle class has expired, please consider the evidence:

The Middle Class Is Shrinking Everywhere — In Chicago It’s Almost Gone

Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research

People tend to self-report viewing themselves as middle class, but by the standards of previous eras, they lack the basics of middle class prosperity. I laid out 12 core characteristics of classic middle class security in What Does It Take To Be Middle Class? (December 5, 2013)

Get a Job, Build a Rea…
Charles Hugh Smith
Check Amazon for Pricing.

By these standards, perhaps one-third of American households have the same security and assets as previous generations who identified themselves as middle class: Honey, I Shrunk the Middle Class: Perhaps 1/3 of Households Qualify (December 28, 2015).

The ten primary drivers of the erosion of the middle class are:

1. The shifting of pension and healthcare costs and risks from the state and employers to employees. (see chart below)

2. The decline of safe, secure high-yielding investments as central banks have driven savers into risky, crash-prone assets such as stocks and junk bonds.

3. The decline of scarcity value in college diplomas that were once the ticket to middle class security. How Many Slots Are Open in the Upper Middle Class? Not As Many As You Might Think (March 30, 2015).

4. The inexorable rise in big-ticket costs: higher education,…

Read more