A friend recently sent me a piece by economic reporter Michael Snyder that provided more evidence of the decline of the American middle class. As Snyder notes, a recent report from the Social Security Administration shows that 51% of all American workers make less than $30,000 per year, and 38% make less than $20,000. These low wages coexist with widespread unemployment and underemployment: 102.6 million Americans are either unemployed or out of the labor market. Snyder also cites a recent report by Credit Suisse, which shows that 25% of Americans have negative net worth.
These numbers are dismal. Yet they seem to make no impact on the Washington elite, which has effectively ensconced itself in a recession-free cocoon. Instead, that elite is still pushing for mass immigration, which drives down wages, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, another in a long line of trade agreements that have caused American manufacturing jobs to go overseas and American wages to keep going south. It is little wonder, then, that candidates seen as defying the establishment are doing well and candidates seen as supporting the establishment are either foundering or have already left the race. For years, establishment politicians have sought to mask the economic decline of the middle class by repeating platitudes about “opportunity" and “growth,” platitudes made empty by the elite consensus favoring trade and immigration positions that make economic life harder for most Americans. For a time it even worked, because many Americans remember when there was widespread economic opportunity and sustained economic growth.
But the economic reality for many Americans has changed, and candidates who continue to adopt the strategy of “let them eat platitudes” will lose. There is a reason, for example, that Hillary Clinton is now opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership, even though she was Secretary of State in the administration that negotiated that treaty. As Clinton recognizes, it is highly unlikely that any candidate who supports the Trans Pacific Partnership can be elected president. Back in the 1990s, it was possible to convince people that trade agreements like NAFTA would help the American economy and their own families. Some 50,000 or so shuttered factories later, few people believe that anymore.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.