The rise of the middle class in the middle of the twentieth century brought new opportunity and security to millions of American families. Yet today the U.S. has the highest economic inequality of all developed nations and the middle class is shrinking.
In 2007, 44 percent of families lived in middle-income neighborhoods, down from 65 percent of families in 1970, according to a Stanford University study. Over that same time period, the percent of families living in areas of either affluence or poverty went from 15 percent to 33 percent.
In his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, President Obama said,
Since 1963, the economy has changed. The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class—reduced the bargaining power of American workers. And our politics has suffered. Entrenched interests, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal—marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue that minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools, that all these things violated sound economic principles. We’d be told that growing inequality was a price for a growing economy, a measure of this free market; that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.
As inequality in our nation has increased, union membership has decreased. While the decline of unions is certainly not the only factor contributing to increasing inequality, the correlation shows strong unions go hand in hand with a strong middle class. Today only 11.3 percent of our country’s workers are union members.
Everyone wants a shot at being part of the middle class. Food-service workers are the most recent to speak up and call for better compensation for their occupation.
In recent days, food service workers have staged strikes across the nation asking for a living wage. Many food service workers, a growing segment of the labor force, earn minimum wage or little more.
A living wage isn’t only important for those who are in the labor force. It ensures a brighter future with more opportunities for workers’ children and for our entire country.
Children whose parents earn a living wage don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from. Parents with an adequate income are more stable, under less stress, and able to be better parents.
A strong middle class is the bedrock of a strong society. Don’t let the middle class disappear.