Middle-class Demise Jive Jobs, No Aid, False Hopes

Posted: December 15, 1986

LAS VEGAS — "America's Middle Class May Disappear."

That story ran eight pages back in the Wednesday edition of the Las Vegas Sun.

It ran without fanfare or banner headlines. It could have been mistaken for an article about lost dogs or sick chickens or a convention of jealous ex- boyfriends with suicidal tendencies.

It didn't run across the top of the page, and was only about 10 inches of copy, surrounded by an article announcing a reexamination of the Miranda ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and a tale about a woman held for food tampering in a Seattle grocery store.

Half of the page was taken up by an ad from Humana Hospital, offering psychiatric treatment because "It's the age of anxiety and putting on a happy face isn't enough."

There was a story about the recall of a French wine cooler that burned throats in Rhode Island, possibly the result of tampering.

A tiny article at the very bottom of the page mentioned the black-tie ball President and Mrs. Reagan hosted the night before to kick off a series of White House Christmas parties.

The story about the disappearing middle class highlighted results of a study by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

The study noted that although total U.S. employment grew by more than 8 million jobs between 1979 and 1984, jobs paying $14,000 a year or more actually declined by 1.8 million.

Not only did all the employment growth take place in jobs paying less than $14,000, almost 60 percent of that growth was in jobs that pay less than $7,000 a year.

It's little wonder that since 1979, there's been a 30 percent increase in poverty among families with children.

In 1979, the poverty rate was 11.7 percent; 26.1 million people were poor. In 1985, the rate was 14 percent; 33.1 million people were in poverty.

The problem is exacerbated because just as more people are earning less and making poverty the group activity of the '80s, the federal government is gutting domestic programs and telling everyone to try to feed a family on one of those low-paying $7,000 jobs.

An analysis of Census Bureau data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that in 1979, nearly one of five families who would have been in poverty was lifted out by some type of domestic cash benefit program.

But in 1985, only one out of nine families is escaping poverty by those programs.

That means 458,000 families are living in poverty because of mean-spirited White House policies that would rather buy bombs and fight dirty little wars than feed babies.

Maybe the story got such little play in Las Vegas, because Nevada's Sin City is the home of dead-end jobs, starvation wages and the schizophrenia that is being poor and powerless in a city that fawns over and survives because of the rich and powerful. So more and more people who don't have rich parents, hit the lottery, sell drugs or do things people are willing to pay to watch are being caught between jobs that don't pay enough to live on and government assistance that doesn't exist.

The numbers would be worse, except that many wives have entered the workforce to make two salaries do what one used to accomplish. But that doesn't help millions of single parents or the unfortunates who still can't survive after combining two $7,000 salaries.

Unenlightened nations around the globe have no middle class. There are the very rich and the very poor and governments designed to keep things that way.

Those countries don't have rules that demand people be informed of their rights when they are arrested. That's because rich folks don't get arrested, and only rich folks count.

Those countries are run by officials who believe they are above the law and have no tolerance for poor people who are often driven to acts of desperation. The ranks of the homeless swell in those countries, and crazy folks do bizarre things like injecting poison into chocolate ice cream and wine coolers.

The only difference is that here in the land of free enterprise, hospitals can make a buck by offering programs that tell folks "going it alone, biting the bullet . . . and attempts at false cheerfulness are just that: false hope."

And the president has a black-tie party to celebrate the most joyous season of the year and the death of the American middle class.

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