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I heard it again on Face the Nation Sunday — both Nancy Pelosi and Bob Scheifer used the term “middle class” in speaking about middle income Americans. Come on! This is America, where we cherish the ability, or at least the potential, for people to move up through the income strata, and not be forever bound by a social “class” structure. Yet our politicians and news media, a the highest levels, refuse to align their semantics with American ideals. Hence, they contribute to perpetuating the premise that we are bound to social “classes” in the United States.

I wrote about this semantic phenomenon at some length in my blog on September 23 last year. There are plenty of “lower income” people who are anything but “lower class.” They may have degrees, creativity or just a work ethic that gives them potential for social mobility, and not everyone values mere economic mobility in the same way. And there are certainly the “upper income” types who are anything but “upper class,” eg. the Trumps of the world. As for those of us at various levels of “middle income,” we are certainly not bound to the “middle class.”

Like most of us, I find the endless reporting of the daily habits of British royalty interesting, if not fascinating, but only in the sense of voyeuristic appreciation of celebrities who are famous for being famous. But they are anachronisms of  bygone times, and to my mind they have no place in a modern democratic society which allows both social and economic mobility. While yes, there are some people of every economic strata who are “classy,” isn’t it about time we left social caste or classes to history, and take them out of our politics, our news media and our modern lives. It is time our semantics and our realities become better aligned.

When both political parties talk in terms of creating or replacing jobs lost by what they insist on misrepresenting as the “middle class,” they don’t speak of how we will re-employ low-skilled workers who are NOT candidates for college, management or high-tech industries. Yes, there are many who can benefit from more and better educational and training opportunities, including retraining, and enter or re-enter the middle class. But there are many millions more who were never in the middle class and never will be, because their abilities and capacities are limited, and more suited to decent manual labor, hourly jobs and low-skill positions. They are willing to work and learn, but there won’t be room for everyone in middle management and the lab.

The reality the politicians ignore, and seem afraid to acknowledge, is that the U.S. needs to create millions of new low-skill jobs, and the opportunity to do so sits right in front of us all. Our infrastructure in the U.S. is in bad shape, in need of repair and replacement — roads, bridges, dams, commercial buildings, apartments, homes, our forests damaged by fires, our commmunities damaged by storms. We need to upgrade our airports and build njew railroads. To do all that, and accelerate the rebirth of our economy, We need a new public works program nationally, and a private works program too. Millions who are not capable or ready to achieve middle class status in our society need honest, honorable, decent paying work to support themselves and their families. And they need it now, not in five years. Many returning veterans (and hopefully there will be many and soon) can benefit from that work as well.

What no politician speaks of or has any announced specific plans for is a “working class” jobs program of massive scale, to replace the manufacturing and white-color jobs that have been or will soon be eliminated by new technology or that have gone overseas to low paid foreign workers. Yes, we need a jobs program for the real professional “middle class,” but we desperately need one for the equally real “working class” as well. Where are the plans, and when does the work start?

Political rhetoric in this year’s Presidential election seems to be fixated on use of the term “middle class,” to refer to the vast electorate. We hear the “middle class” drumbeat incessantly. Yet in our supposedly “classless” society, we almost never hear a politician refer to the “lower class” or the “upper class” that would give the phrase “middle class” some relative meaning. What we hear instead are the words “the poor” in place of “lower class” and “the rich” in place of “upper class.”  Politicians just can’t seem to articulate that indeed we have a downtrodden unemployed and marginally employed “lower class” that  amounts to the social serfs and peasantry of our contemporary American culture, and heaven help us, bookended by a moneyed, uppity “upper class” that is populated with the princelings of our modern society. Why is that?

Well, when we hear “middle class,” I think what is really meant is reference to a middle-income class, not some middle social caste. And often, much or the lower-income class consisting of regularly paid workers are meant to be included in that aspirational, voting “middle class” moniker.  As for the unheard of “upper class,” it suffices politicians to refer to “the rich.” They seem to dare not refer to the well-born and socially prominent, but to those who have accumulated great wealth. Donald Trump is “rich” but hardly “upper class,” except for the trappings of estates, planes, country clubs and starlets that come with vast fortune.

So, that leaves us with a political “middle class” electorate with no acknowledged “lower” and “upper”social bookends to surround it. I think I’ll choke the next time I hear the epithet “middle class” from a politician. Can we get back to a socially classless American society, where we have people with a little or a lot of money, and those of us hard-working managers and professionals struggling somewhere in between?

July 2022

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