The 66%: America’s Growing Underclass – Jobs & Economy – The Atlantic Cities
Income and wealth inequality have risen to record levels in the United States. Even as cities have become the new social and economic organizing units of our increasingly spiky world, their inequalities are approaching levels found in Third World nations.
Over at the Midwesterner, Richard Longworth alerts us to this growing crisis:
Leave Manhattan and the Loop, head east from Seattle or north from the Bos-wash Corridor, hit the interstates through the Midwest and the South, plunge into the empty and echoing hearts of Detroit or Cleveland or the arid reaches of the Great Plains, and another America emerges. …
This is the land of double-wides and dollar stores, of closed mills and mines, of bankrupt towns, of casinos paying minimum wage to laid-off auto workers, of once-vibrant cities — from Newton in Iowa to Rockford in Illinois, to Terre Haute and Muncie in Indiana to Mansfield and Lima in Ohio, and onto Syracuse and Buffalo in New York — all created to serve industries or corporations that have gone away. …
This includes inner-city blacks stranded in their ghettoes, a million Hispanic immigrants scrambling for a toehold, and many of the city’s whites, high school grads or even college grads tending bars or stocking shelves at Target. Not that they’re unemployed: many of these people have jobs, sometimes two or three jobs. They used to be middle class. If they owned a home, it’s foreclosed now. Their kids won’t go to college.
America’s stark class divides are a product of its ongoing economic transformation. As the ranks of the working class have shrunk due to the devastating one-two punch of automation and globalization, two other classes have swelled. On the one hand, there is the creative class of scientists and engineers; business professionals and knowledge workers; artists, entertainers, media workers and cultural creatives. Numbering more than 40 million, they account for almost a third of the American workforce. With average annual earnings of more than $70,000, they collect almost half of all U.S. wages and salaries and control some 70 percent of the nation’s discretionary income.
But in parallel, another much larger class has arisen. More than 60 million Americans belong to the service class. These are some of America’s fastest-growing job categories, such as food preparation, personal care, and retail sales, but on average they earn just over $30,000 in annual wages, and many quite a bit less than that.