Editor’s Viewpoint: A middle class at war with itself
Mobilized by Facebook and other social media, thousands of protestors gathered to rally against what they say is the tyranny of their government leaders. Guards struggled to keep the protestors from invading the building where government legislators were trying to assemble. Resembling recent eruptions in the Middle East, that scene took place in Madison, Wis., in early March, where the governor took a “no compromise” attitude and passed a bill that limits bargaining rights for government workers, despite being swarmed by public employees protesting the change.
The Wisconsin governor’s approach to dealing with massive shortfalls is understandable. He and many of his constituents join millions of others who believe that at least part of our financial problems are caused by government employee pensions and too powerful unions. The people who elected the new governor were middle class Americans who took to the streets a couple of years ago to express their frustrations over issues ranging from the Wall Street bailouts to passage of the healthcare bill.
Today, with only 6.9 percent of private sector workers unionized compared to 36 percent for those in the public sector, state houses are aiming at government employees, and that group of Americans is staging a second middle class revolt in Wisconsin and Ohio. In other words, the first middle class revolt has spawned the second.
It is ironic that the first middle class movement was based on the realization that they’ve been on the losing end of almost every economic trend in America in the past 30 years, including massive job losses. Those who managed to keep their jobs saw their home values plummet and their retirement nest eggs shrivel during the second, and deepest, recession of the decade. Their final straw was seeing large companies handed billions of dollars to remain solvent.
Rather than blame each other, middle class Americans should work together to correct the economic position they all are in. In short, the middle class percentage of yearly income has been steadily dropping, with an average inflation-adjusted hourly wage decline of more than 7 percent during the last three decades. At the same time, the top 1 percent of earners are bringing home 23.5 cents of every dollar earned in America today, vs. 8.9 cents in 1976.
We all should feel like we have a stake in our country’s future. Instead, despite the various rising economic tides over the last 30 years, today’s middle class — union and non-union alike — feel like we are under water.
- Wisconsin governor signs anti-union bill
- Report: Wisconsin public servants face a compensation penalty
- Fire fighter association protests pension attacks
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