Disturbing Statistics on the Decline of America’s Middle Class

Monday, October 18, 2010
By Paul Martin


In American public life, it’s hard to escape the long shadow of the middle class. From politicians to pulpits to the punditocracy, those in the public eye constantly appeal to the solid center of the country.

Mainstream values are described as “middle class,” as are common tastes and preferences. Economists often state that the middle class is the engine of commerce, and industries from construction to education to consumer electronics rely on a strong middle class — with large amounts of disposable income — to build colleges, fill houses and buy Blu-Ray players. But what if this massive engine ground to a halt?

On the surface, the scenario sounds unlikely. But a growing cadre of economic analysts note the steady erosion of the middle class, and the loss of its massive buying power. In a recent article, my Daily Finance colleague Charles Hugh Smith laid out a fairly clear argument for the disappearance of the middle class, at least in terms of wealth. As Smith notes, the top 20% of the American populace holds roughly 93% of the country’s financial wealth, and the top 1% of the country holds approximately 43% of the money in the U.S. Meanwhile, the middle 20% of the population — what would, officially, be called the middle class — holds only 6% of the country’s total assets. While disturbing, even this miniscule share of the wealth pie dwarfs the bottom 40% of the country, who control less than 1%.

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