Why The Middle-Class Is Disappearing

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The middle class was once a symbol of the American dream.

It meant financial security and an opportunity for a better future. But that portrait of the American middle class is quite different today. A survey in 2018 found that a third of middle-income adults don’t have as much as $400 to cover an unexpected expense. And while the middle-class lifestyle grows more expensive and uncertain, it’s also moving beyond the reach of younger generations. “It was at least a secure category,” said Alissa Quart, author of ‘Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America,’ [but] there are certain kinds of assumptions around being a middle-class person” that have “shattered” over the past 10 to 15 years.

Some middle-income households and experts believe a lack of supporting policies might be to blame for the drastic changes. “There is no help whatsoever,” according to Chantal Jacob, a middle-income parent from suburban Texas. “There’s no policy in place to assist people. And I feel like as soon as you get a job, as soon as you’re working, they’re just like, ‘That’s all you need, a job. You got it, go forth and have at it.’ ”

Lawrence Mishel, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, shares that sentiment. “It’s not that the economy got worse, it was that there were policy decisions made so that the economic growth did not filter down to the vast majority.”

The Biden administration has been pushing for several bills aimed at supporting middle-income households, including the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed in November 2021 and the Build Back Better Act currently stalled in Congress. But observers say it might not be enough to save the middle class from economic hardship now and in the future. “My friends that were struggling are still struggling,” said Jacob. “I’m still budgeting down to every dollar trying to get things done. So I just feel like if the changes are happening, they’re not trickling down fast enough for us to see the effects of it.”

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