What’s The Future of the Middle Class in America?

“We can’t go back,” says economist Dean Baker.

Jake Neher/WDET

We’ve been hearing reports for several years now about the slow erosion of a Middle Class in America. That there’s a widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Some would say the problem is a loss of good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, such as with the auto industry. Others suggest policy is the problem, with the creation of a society that benefits from keeping poor people poor.

“In the last 30 years or 40 years what we’ve seen is a policy set of shifts, where we now had a country focusing on… tax cuts for the wealthiest people, deregulating industries, allowing concentration of economic power into monopolies and oligopolies,” says Ganesh Sitaraman, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School and author of The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution. “And the result… was the great crash of 2008 and then the deep economic insecurity that we’ve been in since then.”

America may see some manufacturing jobs return, says Dean Baker, co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research. But, he says, they won’t be the same jobs that were lost and they likely won’t return to the same city centers such as Detroit.

“We can’t go back,” says Baker. “We can say that trade policies for the past two decades were bad, and I think that’s true… but we can’t go back.”

Jeffrey Dorfman, professor of applied economics at University of Georgia, says raising the minimum wage makes it less likely businesses will hire people, making it harder for some people to get jobs.

“We do need to rethink our job skills, we do need to rethink our job training,” says Dorfman. He says it would be better for people to forego a four-year liberal arts education and instead study for technical jobs. “What a lot of people need is to go to community college to become… something else that people are hiring for.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


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