Future of the Middle Class

April 8, 2016 • Volume 26, Issue 14
Is the outlook getting grimmer for average Americans?
By Peter Katel


Bob Beaupre (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Dina Rudick)
Bob Beaupre, a laid-off Oracle engineer in Northbridge, Mass., has been unable to find a new tech job. President Obama's latest budget calls for boosting employment in high-skilled, middle-class jobs, but congressional Republicans are refusing to hold hearings on the proposed budget. (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Dina Rudick)

The percentage of middle-income U.S. households has declined significantly in recent years, leading some economists, policy experts and politicians to argue that the American middle class is in deep trouble — or even disappearing. Globalization, automation and declining union membership have shrunk the manufacturing workforce — historically a bulwark of the middle class — and an increasing share of the nation's wealth has accrued to the richest Americans. Many experts say achieving middle-class status today is unlikely without a college education and entry into the white-collar work world — a stark turnaround from the booming post-World War II years, when a stable blue-collar job anchored millions of families in a middle-class lifestyle. Still, some experts call fears of a middle-class decline overblown, saying poor Americans who face far tougher conditions are being overlooked. Presidential candidates in both parties are responding to middle-class discontent, with Democrats promising to cut college costs and Republicans proposing changes in the tax code.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Cost of Living and Wages
Apr. 17, 2020  Inequality in America
Sep. 08, 2017  Universal Basic Income
Apr. 08, 2016  Future of the Middle Class
Apr. 18, 2014  Wealth and Inequality
Jan. 24, 2014  Minimum Wage
Jun. 19, 2009  Rethinking Retirement
Mar. 06, 2009  Middle-Class Squeeze
Mar. 14, 2008  Gender Pay Gap
Dec. 16, 2005  Minimum Wage
Sep. 27, 2002  Living-Wage Movement
Apr. 17, 1998  Income Inequality
Oct. 27, 1978  Wage-Price Controls
Jun. 16, 1978  Military Pay and Benefits
Mar. 23, 1966  Rising Cost of Living
Oct. 25, 1961  Price-Wage Restraints in National Emergencies
Jun. 21, 1961  Wage Policy in Recovery
Jun. 11, 1958  Prices and Wages in the Recession
Sep. 18, 1957  Control of Living Costs
Nov. 02, 1955  Wages, Prices, Profits
Jan. 26, 1954  Minimum Wage Raise
Jan. 02, 1954  Cost of Living
Jan. 21, 1953  Guaranteed Annual Wage
Dec. 17, 1952  Future of Price and Wage Controls
Nov. 19, 1951  Fringe Benefits and Wage Stabilization
Dec. 06, 1950  Wage Control
Jun. 13, 1949  Wages in Deflation
Jun. 04, 1947  Guarantees of Wages and Employment
Oct. 29, 1946  Decontrol of Wages
Dec. 01, 1945  Minimum Wages
Sep. 29, 1945  Wage Policy
Oct. 27, 1944  Wage Security
May 17, 1943  Incentive Wage Payments
Aug. 25, 1941  Prices, Profits, and Wage Control
Apr. 28, 1941  Wartime Changes in the Cost of Living
Sep. 21, 1940  Two Years of the Wage-Hour Law
Nov. 01, 1938  Industry and Labor Under the Wage-Hour Act
Jan. 20, 1938  Wage Rates and Workers' Incomes
Apr. 11, 1935  The Cost of Living in the United States
Sep. 01, 1930  Wages and the Cost of Living
May 24, 1930  The Anthracite Wage Agreement
Feb. 20, 1925  Measure of Recovery in Profits and Wages Since 1920–21 Depression
Cost of Education and School Funding
Data and Statistics
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Outsourcing and Immigration
Unemployment and Employment Programs
Vocational and Adult Education
Work and the Family