American Middle-Class Now Second-Class To Canada — It Didn’t Have To Be This Way

America’s middle class has been richest in the world for several generations, but we’ve lost that distinction to our northern neighbors.

Canada is officially home to the richest middle class on the planet, according to figures released from the Luxembourg Income Study Database. The flowing chart details 30 years of destruction to America’s lower and middle classes, the loss of standing internationally, and the concentration of income to the wealthy class in the U.S. (Click Chart For Larger View):

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How did we lose the lead? It’s no secret really; economists have been sounding the alarm for twenty-five years, and Americans have continued supporting the policies (both Republican and Democrat, alike) that have furthered their own economic erosion, even as they believe, individually, they are immune to the deleterious aspects of these political and economic choices (privatization, deregulation, free-trade agreements, free-floating exchange rates, globalization, dismantling of the safety net, poor school systems, conservatism, economic libertarianism).

Kevin Phillips wrote about the situation in a 1991 book I read when it came out: “The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath.”

Blame three broad factors encompassing the above issues: 1) Canada’s education attainment is outpacing the U.S. and most of the world; 2) American middle-class market wages (driven by globalization) aren’t keeping up with overall economic growth; and (3) Other governments are doing more to redistribute income to poorer families in other countries, particularly in western and northern Europe (the social safety net and progressive taxes).

As a result of America’s belief in the divinity of unfettered virginal markets and the evils of progressive government policy, after-tax middle-class incomes in Canada grew markedly higher than in the United States, while the poor in most of Europe now earn more than poor Americans.

Economic growth in the United States remains as strong or stronger than other industrialized nations, but only a small, elite percentage of American households fully benefits income-wise from that growth. The middle-class wallow in stagnation with no noticeable inflation-adjusted income progress in a decade. The plight of the U.S. poor is even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less real income than in decades past and less than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

Make no mistake, economic statistics — per capita gross domestic product — continue to show the United States maintains the lead as the world’s richest large country. Crucially, those numbers are averages, which do not measure the distribution of income. Here is where America fails: in distribution of incomes. The U.S. is the most unequal in income of mature industrialized nations.

With the majority share of income gains in the U.S. now flowing to an extremely small percentage of high-earning households, for the next generation or more, most Americans will not keep pace with their counterparts around the world — nor will they obtain the economic levels of their parents. Implement progressive policy changes, and this situation may begin to slowly improve. Stay the course and past will be prelude to the average American’s diminished future.

I may be an economic and social liberal with a clear preference, but the facts are undeniable, as are the reasons for these changes. Read ‘em and weep:

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