The hourglass society: Middle-income households no longer the majority in the US

Published on World Socialist Web Site WSWS, by Andre Damon, Dec 11, 2015.

For the first time in more than four decades, “middle-income households” no longer constitute the majority of American society, according to a study published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. Instead, the majority of households are either low or higher-income. The study concluded, “Once in the clear majority, adults in middle-income households in 2015 were matched in number by those in lower- and upper-income households combined.” Pew called its findings “a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point” in American society … //

… The conclusion that the incomes and wealth of all sections of society have declined since the start of the 2008 crisis is attributable to the fact that the study’s methodology is too broad to encompass the most dramatic change in American society: the enormous concentration of wealth and income in the hands of the financial oligarchy. The handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires in this social group are wealthier than ever.

Figures published last year by professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman showed that the wealthiest 0.5 percent of American society saw their share of the country’s wealth double, from about 17 percent in 1978 to just under 35 percent in 2012. The top 0.1 percent (one one-thousandth of the population) now controls more than 20 percent of all wealth, up from about 8 percent in the late 1970s.

The vast growth of social inequality is not the result of an impartial and merely objective process, but is rather the result of policies pursued by the government for decades aimed at slashing the wages and benefits of American workers while enriching the financial oligarchy that dominates wealth and political power in the US. This process has been dramatically accelerated under the Obama administration.

The persistent growth of social inequality is the most conspicuous and defining characteristic of contemporary American society. It is this process, facilitated by the financialization of the economy and the continuous diversion of resources away from productive investment, that underlies the erosion of democratic forms of government and the endless promotion of war and militarism.

This process expresses, moreover, a deep social crisis to which the financial elite, obsessed with the expansion of its own wealth and social privilege, can offer no solutions.

(full text, graphs).


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