Clearly not the same definition as in 18th century France or England, a definition that underwent change since then in Europe that operates in America’s shadow since the 1940s, US government (media and mainstream institutions as well) defines middle class on the basis of a) owning a home, b) car, c) college for the kids, d) retirement fund, e) health care, and f) family vacations. If you have these six things, you too are in the shrinking “middle class” as US government (and mainstream institutions) defines it. Therefore you are happily conformed and the social order will continue to exist for a very long time.
But what if you lack one or more of the six criteria? High-paying jobs in the secondary sector of production (manufacturing) have been going to Asia and Latin America and with it the drop in salaries and benefits for Americans, followed by white-collar jobs in sectors from computer science to medical engineering. The situation is not very different for many other advanced capitalist countries that have experienced downward social mobility under globalization.
Although Americans and their European counterparts became two-income families, some taking second jobs, the cost of living rose sharply in the last two decades, while wages, salaries, benefits, and social security income could not keep pace. “For most of the 20-year period following 1990, the Commerce Department reports that real median income grew at a rate of about 20%, while the cost of a college education grew between 43% and 60%, the cost of housing rose 56% and health care costs jumped by 155%.”
Joe Biden’s web site describing the task force notes that “A strong middle class equals a strong America.” But was it not government policies regardless of political parties whether in the US or any of the advanced capitalist countries that led to the shrinking middle class since 1970? Is the solution to a strong middle class a more even income distribution where the majority of the population does not live on less because the pyramid is becoming increasingly narrower at the top and wider at the bottom?
Who knows what Joe Biden will do to get Democrats elected this year against the background of a Republican assaults (Glenn Beck calling Obama racist)? It seems any solution that proposes social and economic justice would be unacceptable for mainstream America. A more acceptable solution for US government and mainstream institutions is: a) find another job to supplement your income, b) work harder, c) plan and invest better, d) return to school for more education or re-training; and e) wait for “lady luck” to ring your doorbell because you have conformed to the Calvinist work ethic!
If indeed the assumptions of the US government (and the entire mainstream institutional structure) that “securing a middle class” is the key the American Dream, how do we explain US public opinion polls indicating that the “happiness” level (granted the obvious difficult of quantifying it), has been under 50% and steadily declining since 1970? And how do we explain that in a global public opinion poll, the top four “happiest” countries in the world are Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, while the US ranks 14th, despite the largest GDP on the planet?
Even if we accept the US (political and financial elites backed by media and academia) ubiquitous PR campaign, to project the image that upward mobility is the dream, scholarly studies by individual academics and think tanks for the last three decades indicate that there has been downward mobility in America, spreading to the rest of the world with some exceptions. Global outsourcing under neo-liberal policies has resulted in a shrinking middle class likely to shrink more in this decade in the US and EU.