NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 24, 2008

Is the American middle class an endangered species?  The majority of Americans have long shared one state of mind: that they are in some central way members of the middle class and hold a passport to the good life, says Mortimer Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report.

Growing income inequality has had little traction thus far as a political issue, partly because many middle-class Americans have moved up, says Zuckerman.

For example:

  • There are 12 percent more households earning in excess of $100,000 than 20 or so years ago.
  • Those making less than $30,000 have not increased.
  • So virtually the entire "decline" of the middle-class group has come from people moving up the income ladder, not down.
  • Some 82 percent of those born into poverty are much better off than their parents and more than a third of them have made it into the middle class or higher.

It's the attitude of Americans that explains the low combustibility of income inequality, says Zuckerman.  Americans, quite simply, believe that plenty of opportunities exist to get ahead. 

Education is another great American success story, says Zuckerman.  There has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of adults completing high school and college:

  • Nearly 90 percent of all adults get high school diplomas today, compared with 33 percent in 1947; college graduates have soared from 5.4 percent in 1947 to almost 30 percent today.
  • More than two thirds of Americans concur with the statement that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill -- the largest percentage across 27 countries taking part in an international survey of social attitudes.

Source: Mortimer Zuckerman, "The American Dream Goes On," U.S. New and World Report, June 13, 2008.

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