Downward pressures on middle-class Americans have had a corrosive effect on the people’s confidence in both their own economic prospects and government’s ability to do anything about them. What once were hallmarks of success — a new home or two cars — have become burdens to many families living paycheck to paycheck. Paying for health care, college education and retirement now seem out of reach for growing numbers of middle-class families.
Politicians still talk about the American Dream, but for much of the middle-class, the dream is an outdated concept. The most telling example comes in a new Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll. A steady job and keeping up with expenses are now the most prized commodities for a majority of middle-class Americans, not tangible possessions.
Holding on and not falling further behind is the way many workers now look at the future. Fifty-two percent of people in the poll said the middle class has less opportunity to get ahead than did their parents’ generation, according to the survey. Sixty-five percent said the middle class has less job and financial security than did their parents’ generation.
Not quite half of full-time employees in the middle class said it’s very realistic that they will have job security, and not quite a fifth of those between 40 and 59 said it is very realistic that they can save enough to retire comfortably.
Imbued with cynicism
Washington’s collective indifference or inability to confront these challenges hasn’t escaped notice. A majority of African Americans and not quite half of all Hispanics express confidence that Obama’s policies will increase opportunities for them to get ahead in the future. But among whites, only a small minority said they believe his policies will help them achieve that kind of success, according to the poll.
Is it any wonder that people are cynical about politicians when, for two years, those people have been bombarded with television ads and political rhetoric that exude empathy for their plight and offer assurances that something will be done about it, and then after the campaign is over see those politicians failing to take action?
There are no quick fixes to the economic problems that continue to gnaw at the confidence of so many families, as there were to the problem of airline delays. But Congress’s action this past week only highlighted anew the absence of any serious effort to live up to the promises of the last campaign. Has the forgotten middle class been forgotten once again?
For previous columns by Dan Balz, go to postpolitics.com.