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How We Can Bring Millions of Americans to the Middle Class

Bob Herbert
The Huffington Post

The United States needs to be reimagined. A recent study from the Pew Research Center tells us that in economic terms the middle class "has suffered its worst decade in modern history." It's shrinking.

With jobs scarce, wages declining and the nation's wealth concentrating ever more intensely at the top, the middle class has shrunk in size for the first time since World War II.

This is not a problem that began with the Great Recession, although the recession and its dismal aftermath have caused it to snowball. We've known for many years that despite hard work ordinary Americans have had trouble making ends meet, paying their monthly bills for food, shelter and clothing. It has become ever more difficult for families to find the funds necessary for decent childcare, and to send their children to college, and to prepare for a comfortable retirement. According to Pew, a mere 11 percent of Americans now describe themselves as very optimistic about the country's long-term economic future.

What we're experiencing is nothing less than an historic generational decline in living standards. We've obviously been doing something very wrong.

My colleagues at Demos, a nonpartisan think tank, have been researching and analyzing the economic plight of the middle class and poorer Americans for many years and have come up with a compelling blueprint for turning this disastrous situation around. It is a program that would require a tremendously heavy lift politically, a great deal of shared sacrifice among America's citizens, and a substantial financial investment in our human capital and other resources.

Try to imagine a nation in which there are good jobs for all who want and need to work; a nation in which all students who want a college education would be able to afford it; a nation in which predatory lending is prohibited and banks and other financial institutions are not permitted to charge usurious interest rates; a nation in which the middle class is once again expanding at a rapid rate and the ranks of the poor are vanishing.

Demos's comprehensive report, "Millions to the Middle: 14 Big Ideas to Build a Strong and Diverse Middle Class," not only imagines such a sanguine state of affairs, but offers us a viable route to get there.