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Our Middle Class Is Shrinking Compared to Western Europe’s. This is Not Good

Middle-class Americans are falling further behind, even compared to their counterparts in Western Europe, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.
By Clyde Weiss ·
Our Middle Class Is Shrinking Compared to Western Europe’s. This is Not Good

We’ve known for some time now that America’s middle class is shrinking and that middle-class families are falling further behind those in the upper class. The evidence is clear and disturbing, and not surprising, given tax laws that favor the wealthy.

But the news gets worse. A new study shows middle-class America is shrinking even faster than the middle class in Western Europe.

“The U.S. is the only country in which fewer than six-in-ten adults were in the middle class,” the study by the Pew Research Center says. “Meanwhile, compared with those in many Western European countries, greater shares of Americans were either lower income (26%) or upper income (15%).”

It’s not all bad news. “Compared with Western Europe, the U.S. middle class is smaller, but its income is greater.” For instance, the median household income in the U.S. was $52,941 after taxes in 2010. That compares to $41,047 in Germany and $41,076 in France, the report notes.

That is small comfort, however, when considering what else the researchers found: More people in America than in Western Europe are falling into the lower income tier, up 1 percent to 26 percent between 1991 and 2010, the period covered by the study.

“The American experience reflects a marked difference in how income is distributed in the U.S. compared with many countries in Western Europe,” the report said. “The U.S. has a relatively large upper-income tier, placed well apart from an also relatively large lower-income tier. This manifests not only as a smaller middle-income share but also as a higher level of income inequality.”

What can be done to shrink this income inequality gap? Evidence shows that where unions are strongest, so is the middle class. The decline of unions mirrors the fall of the middle class. But recent evidence shows more Americans support unions despite membership declines (AFSCME being the exception).

Learn more about the connection between unions and income equality here, and also read more about the Pew study, released Monday, in this story in The New York Times.

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