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Looking for a Middle Class

Posted on Oct 15, 2009
Flickr / Samory Santos

By Marie Cocco

Editor’s note: This is Marie Cocco’s final column. She has written a farewell note below. 

The challenge of our time is to re-create America as a middle-class nation.

The idea does not find voice in the cacophony of the 24-hour news cycle. It has no place in the media’s daily digest of gossip, false controversy and ideological cant. It is barely mentioned in the halls of power, where the very officials who capitalize on the economic angst of working people to win election forget that this raw anguish—not the sophisticated arguments of lobbyists and campaign donors—is supposed to motivate them every day. 

It is easy to blame the financial crisis, Wall Street’s breathtaking bonuses or the culture of excess that glittered until we found ourselves on the precipice of a second Great Depression. In truth, we’ve been dismantling the economic foundation of the middle class for more than three decades.

How many of you, having previously held a presumptively secure job with a solid company, are now working as a “contractor” or “consultant”? The trend toward taking employees off the payroll only to hire them again as contractors—without health benefits, pensions, sick days, vacations—began in the 1970s with janitors, construction workers and truckers. Now highly skilled technology workers who helped transform the global economy are among the downsized, the outsourced, the contracted-out.


Square, Site wide
When IBM was an icon of American enterprise, I could not imagine that I would one day follow veteran IBM workers through the halls of Congress as they buttonholed lawmakers. They’d been stripped of their promised pensions and told to make do with a less generous “cash balance” plan that effectively reduced benefits for the most experienced and loyal workers. Nor could I anticipate that after a fatal airline accident we would learn—as we did after the crash of a Continental Connection flight near Buffalo last February—that overworked pilots on regional carriers earn $20,000 a year or less.

No one could have foretold that eight years after 9/11, hundreds of thousands of rescue workers and residents of lower Manhattan would suffer serious, chronic—and often deadly—diseases from their exposure to the hazards at ground zero. Many are unable to work and have lost their health insurance. Others have fought for workers’ compensation in a system that offers none to independent contractors—or to those whose labor was subcontracted to so many companies that no one firm is held responsible. Some are now impoverished.

“While you’re waiting for your workers’ comp, and you’re waiting for your Social Security disability, you have no money,” says John Feal of Long Island, an injured 9/11 construction worker who started a foundation to help others. “You don’t even have gas to get to the doctor.”

They were heroes, we said. But now they are just cogs in a new economy in which business seems to have unilaterally rewritten the rules of the workplace.

Example: Hundreds of companies stopped making contributions to employee 401(k) retirement plans in the wake of the financial crisis. There is no way to force a resumption of funding when the economy rebounds.

The government has abetted all this with decades of hands-off regulation. Example: At current staffing and budget levels, it would take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 133 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction one time, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project.

Soon the political discussion will shift from the need to keep propping up the economy to the need to reduce the deficit and debt. Then we are certain to hear that Social Security and other “entitlements” are the problem and must be curtailed. In fact, Social Security has sufficient funds to pay full benefits through 2037—a cushion no other government program can claim. Medicare, while under financial strain, has done better at containing costs, per beneficiary, than private health insurers on a similar basis, according to government studies.

The myths that led us to this pass did not materialize by chance. They were conjured up by conservatives intent on dismantling the New Deal society that reigned through the 1960s—a society that produced the world’s most robust middle class. They are fed by lawmakers in both parties who depend on campaign contributions from powerful interests.

Fight the myths. Break the back of the corrupt campaign finance and lobbying systems. These are hard political tasks. But being pushed further down is harder, still. Because no one knows where the new bottom lies.

* * *

This is my final column. Thanks to my loyal readers and dedicated regional editors who have kept a place in their papers and in their minds for the kind of journalism I have worked to provide.

Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, October 20, 2009 at 10:06 am Link to this comment

Poor people, the 70% MAJORITY Common Population, being the genteel middle class is/was a myth from the beginning for the purpose of causing the 70% MAJORITY Common Population to become lackadaisical about their own political interests as members of the 70% MAJORITY Common Population of which they are a part, so that the 70% MAJORITY Common Population would be able to be divided easily against itself and easily conquered by the Right-Wing Conservative EXTREMISTS of the Elite Capitalist Class, and is also why the upper 20% of the Common Population, the Nearly Nobles, the Professional Middle Class divided out of the 90% Common Majority into their own NEW CLASS of Nearly Nobles to look out after themselves and toady to the elite and corporate capitalists, leaving the 70% MAJORITY Common Population to fend for themselves, with only subjective representation in Congress.

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By Eso, October 20, 2009 at 9:40 am Link to this comment

We are not yet near to how hard it will get. The warriors who go to war and never get wounded will get wounded this time.

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By Louise, October 20, 2009 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

canyon critter,

“people in this country today who are going hungry have a mental illness issue. the others are most likely people on drugs or bad money managers. how many of the 35 million people on food stamps are smokers,drinkers or gamblers. most peoples misery in this country is self inflicted. start living within your means. stock-up on supplies things are not going to get better anytime soon.”


At least you hope so, right? I mean isn’t that the good Christian way? Reminding us of how we will all be destroyed any day now, right? Well if that be the case, why bother to try? Oh wait ... is that an unintended consequence?

People in this country today who are going hungry, are PEOPLE GOING HUNGRY!

People on drugs need help, not more drugs! Have you paid any attention to how many drugs they are encouraged to consume courtesy Corporate Drug Manufacturers?

Bad money managers, or victims? I mean, I think I have managed quite well considering my insurance, utilities and rent have all increased on a par with the decrease in my income. But pardon my whining, I’m not alone in the happy Christian Conservative world of pennies for the poor, dollars for the rich.

And be careful what you wish for. If the 35 million people receiving food assistance dissappeard, most likely so would a lot of grocery stores. And the impact to the corporate world of agri-manufacturing might cause a significant dent in profits!

Corporate America LOVES food stamps!

The real ugliness in this reality is that 35 million people have seen their incomes evaporate to the point where they qualify for food assistance! Of course there is an upside. Food assistance makes it possible to put a little extra food aside. The problem is finding someplace to put it, if you happen to be facing homelessness.

Beyond that I can only add, your compassion is underwhelming.

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By walt, October 20, 2009 at 5:11 am Link to this comment

UGH! Read the article, but skip the comments ... unless you want to be
overwhelmed by a near criminal absence of compassion for your fellow
citizens. The only thing comparable has been the utter disregard for our most
vulnerable that has been emanating from the Corpratocracy. (sp?) Gee I guess
we are one people again.

Jesus except for Jim Yell not one constructive or optimistic idea.

This may be one of the worst crises America has ever faced, but it’s not the
only one.

There once was a thing called the American character that was motivated to fight and reform. We have given up? There’s no way out of this? No political uprising to protect us all? No spirt of innovation to solve our dilemma? People have to die? Doesn’t that statement fill you with rage? Those “people” are your fellow citizens, fellow Americans, who fought in wars and paid taxes and all you can do is utter self satisfied stupidities like the Middle Class will not be missed? How have you earned your living?  Your solution is a new “working class”? Working at what? Manufacturing what?  ... Oh, forget it.

You might as well be neo-cons. Hey maybe you are.

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By ardee, October 20, 2009 at 3:33 am Link to this comment


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By canyon critter, October 19, 2009 at 11:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the problem we have is called the wine flue. if you want something done do it yourself. I clean the garbage out of our ditches instead of waiting for the county to do it. there is an undeveloped county park across the roads from me the county was given $10,000 from the people who donated the land to clear out all the dead timber. im doing it myself. people need to be more self reliant. micheal moore says people are hurting out there, people here dont know the meaning. people in this country today who are going hungry have a mental illness issue. the others are most likely people on drugs or bad money managers. how many of the 35 million people on food stamps are smokers,drinkers or gamblers. most peoples misery in this country is self inflicted. start living within your means. stock-up on supplies things are not going to get better anytime soon

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By Ranselar VanDerpoel, October 19, 2009 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m glad to see some of you finally waking up! Sorry it took too long. Pres. Carter told us we had ONLY 5 years to REGAIN control or it was gone- nobody heard that. You all are pointing to others as the culprits who did this,but, if you really want to see who is at fault, you only have to look in the mirror. When a people refuse to uphold their responsibility to control their government and allow corporations to become larger than the government and uncontrollable, then I can only say, you brought this on yourselves.  ” WAKE UP AMERICA “, IS LATER THAN YOU THINK! HAVE A GREAT DAY!

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By ocjim, October 19, 2009 at 10:04 am Link to this comment

“Soon the political discussion will shift from the need to keep propping up the economy to the need to reduce the deficit and debt.”

Plutocrats will try to shift the conversation from their bailouts to reducing the deficit, this while millions of Americans are still unemployed and wages are pushed down.

Let’s face it, we have been gamed and even the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress are playing along with the plutocrats.

The plutocrats are looking beyond the 70% American consumer economy to the consumers in other countries to prop up the economy. To do this they will step on and over our bodies if we let them.

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By ardee, October 19, 2009 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

Folktruther, October 18 at 9:50 pm #

As Anarcissie and NABNYC point out, what we need is a strong working class, not middle class.  It was deliberately debilitated in the US by the ruling class in destroying the unions through globalization.

The fact of the matter is that union workers ARE middle class…FT you really gotta put more thought into your efforts.

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By Louise, October 19, 2009 at 2:34 am Link to this comment

melpol, October 18 at 8:39 am #

“Many in the vanishing middle class will not be missed. Most were overpaid union workers and useless political appointees.”

I guess you’ve always had everything done for you, so maybe all the vanishing workers haven’t impacked you. Lucky you. Hope you have some work clothes handy just in case you have to do something ... for nothing.

“The cream always rises to the top and hopefully the new middle class will be more deserving of their income.”

That’s right melpol, and then what happens?

If the cream isn’t skimmed off (by one of those undeserving workers) it goes sour! So here we are, left with nothing but a lot of smelly cream floating on top of us!

There will be no new middle class as long as fools and sycophants repeat the crap that put us in this mess. (Thank you very much Ronald Reagan, et al. By the way, he was a bad actor too!) Wasn’t that the conservative plan? We would become a service industry. Seems to have worked out well for folks who think they are entitled to service without giving fair compensation. But for those of us, which would be most of us, that have to live in the real world, there are ...

Long lines at the checkout ... where did all the clerks go?

Long waits on a call for help ... where did the call center help go?

A closed school ... where did all the teachers go?

A locked Library, swimming pool, gated park, even the prisons are draining ... where did all the help go?

Longer waits for the police, a fire-truck, an ambulence ... where has all the hired help gone?

Just a matter of time before we start seeing shortages on the shelves in the stores, where did all the truckers go?

Why is it necessary to leave a message with a robo-phone to get an answer from the city, the county, the state, the phone company, the electric utility, the gas company, the bank?

Where has all the help gone?

How come there’s such a shortage of help? There’s certainly no shortage of people looking for work, so maybe the problem is places that need help need help too, like money. Has everyone gone broke?

Nope, your buddies, the cream gone sour (who are beginning to smell to high heaven) are doing quite well. They still have enough money to have their own private help. But guess what? At some point in time, when the people who actually do the work realise they have been tricked in to slave status, they’ll quit! Then you and your buddies, the cream, will actually have to take care of yourselves!

Is that your problem, melpol? Is that why you hate to see people servicing your needs in government, because they think they should be paid? Is that what bugs you, that folks who drive the busses, check out your groceries, dig up your fuel, build your planes and houses, pick up your garbage, fill the hole in your road, run your sewer system, teach your kids, all have the audacity, the nerve to expect to recieve fair pay for their work? Is that what’s bugging you? Does it just piss you off that people who have to work for a living think they have to be paid too?

I sincerely hope you have to start doing all the stuff you willingly let others do for you before, for next to nothing. After all, what did you do to deserve the special status that allows you to determine union workers and political appointees are useless? Is that by “divine” insight? If so, you sir are the non-producer!

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de profundis clamavi's avatar

By de profundis clamavi, October 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment

By melpol, October 18 at 8:39 am #

Many in the vanishing middle class will not be missed. Most were overpaid union
workers and useless political appointees. But those that will be missed were the
highly skilled workers that lost their jobs due to the economic turn down. The
cream always rises to the top and hopefully the new middle class will be more
deserving of their income.

* * * * *

“Most in the vanishing middle class will not be missed.” Where, O Lofty Visionary, do you suppose they are going?

Many in the financial services “industry” (a.k.a. “racket”) who are paid obscene bonuses for ratcheting up the debt on formerly profitable businesses until they go bankrupt, packaging consumer debt into speculative derivatives and merging companies so they can lay off thousands of workers, will not be missed either, when they lose their jobs in the long-awaited collapse of the Wall Street casino economy. Their jobs are worse than useless - they actually spend their entire careers making the world just a little bit meaner and uglier and sadder every day they go to “work”.

What, exactly, O Wise One, is an “overpaid union worker”? Are all workers “overpaid” if they are paid one penny more than what is required to keep them alive and turning over another day’s profit for the people who matter in your neo-feudal worldview? What would satisfy you that workers are not being “overpaid”. Should they be housed in unheated barracks, clothed in rags and fed watery potato soup? All workers do by joining unions is to try to put themselves in a position where they have some bargaining power, whereas they have none at all as individuals dealing with a coporation.

melpol, I wonder what exactly do YOU do in your daily life to make the world a better place, and why should we miss you any more than those “overpaid union workers and useless political appointees” you’re so pleased to consign to oblivion. From the arrogant, smug, conceited attitude revealed in your comment, I am led to believe that if you were to vanish like the middle class you so pointedly refuse to lament, the rest of us would somehow manage to reconcile ourselves to the loss of your Wisdom and Grandeur, and we would still be able to find some meaning and comfort in our poor little lives.

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By Folktruther, October 18, 2009 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment

As Anarcissie and NABNYC point out, what we need is a strong working class, not middle class.  It was deliberately debilitated in the US by the ruling class in destroying the unions through globalization.  As people worked longer and harder for less money and more insecurity, the money went to the money corporations, largely the banks, increasing inequality.

The increased inequality can only be maintained by violence and coercion: more police, more military, more spying on the people, more prisons.

The process of maintaining increased inequality by violence can only be justified by media deception and irrationality in both the Prog and Con truth organs.  This creates a political truth consesnsus totally devoid of the reality-based truth needed by the population.  Such as calling the middle income working class the Middle Class.  Until we reject such obfuscation, most effective from the Prog media, we can’t unite effectively to resist the oppression of the American power system.

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By melpol, October 18, 2009 at 5:39 am Link to this comment

Many in the vanishing middle class will not be missed. Most were overpaid union
workers and useless political appointees. But those that will be missed were the
highly skilled workers that lost their jobs due to the economic turn down. The
cream always rises to the top and hopefully the new middle class will be more
deserving of their income.

Report this

By ardee, October 18, 2009 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

NABNYC, October 16 at 3:39 pm

I am sorry that you thought I “attacked"you personally. I did not, my comment reflected your opinions about a middle class:

Screw the middle class.  The middle class never did anything good for this country or for anyone{/i]

that is unfair, certainly untrue and , in my opinion, showed a need for further research. Perhaps you should choose your words with more care, and I will try not to hit your weak spot.

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By Eso, October 18, 2009 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

We live in a time when “more-equal-than-other” philosophers rule. The middle class is one such philosopher, and Ms Cocco laments his demise. Alas, the decline is less of the middle class (true, its overgrowth is making it fray along the edges, what we know as the lower middle class) than it is of the populist class, the one that believes in economic equality as the way to go, but have the wealthy and upper-to-middle-middle-class blocking the way.

I welcome the declining middle class into the ranks of the populists. It will not be long now before the public hears more from the lowest economic levels. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “...we continue to live in a nonpopulist world, in which populists can only continue to make their case for decentralizing political and economic power.” (From letter to John Cartwright, Monticello, June 5, 1824.)

Incidentally, the populists will not have it easy. For every tree cut down in the forests, we will have to cut down (not give birth to) one human being.

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By Socrates, October 17, 2009 at 8:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s over.  People who study know the details.  Confer Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges.  There’s plenty of blame but to what avail.  We are all sleepwalking into the abyss.  The top 1% win and the 99% lose.  Since it’s over, I should like to take this occasion to propose that the human race is a cancer on the Earth anyway and we were doomed from the start.  The uncontrolled population explosion is icing on the cake.

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By samosamo, October 17, 2009 at 7:38 am Link to this comment

By ardee, October 17 at 9:15 am

There is a problem, very big problem, of people not wanting to read but rely on
what the msm tells them and here with firblog is the classic example of the S&L
scandal and why most people have dismissed as gone, over, past history and
has nothing to do with today but William Black’s book ‘Best Way to Rob a Bank
is to Own One’ gives about all the sordid details of what has become the
financial terrorist attack of today, yes, the real terrorists are really U.S. homegrown and corporate made, which is all summed up in the term ‘control
fraud’ where these bastards subverted the regulatory systems in place to
‘unfetter’ our economic system, worse thing is o ain’t doing anything to stop
and reverse it but actually aided and abetted the current part of the crisis.

But to know what actually happened does require reading a book, a very
informative book by someone in a position to know what happened and
decided to tell it but but with the tv vegetable garden growing in the U.S. it
isn’t surprising that there are many who just don’t understand.

And one last thing, what happens when something such as economics/money becomes ‘unfettered’? Just like rotting meat blotted with maggots, the crooks start fallin over themselves for their share of the ‘gold’.

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By ardee, October 17, 2009 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

Firbolg, October 16 at 5:06 pm

Firstly, I do not blame conservatives, but they are increasingly rare in positions of power. Instead there has arisen a bastardization of conservative politics as exemplified by such as the entire GOP ( well almost)and the most vocal of the media stars(?)like the drug addled Limbaugh, the undoubtedly nuts O’Reilly and their ilk. This began under Ronald Wilson Reagan in fact with his vilification of all govt , a mantra you seem all too willing to adopt, despite its untruth.

Neither, in fact, did the policies of Lyndon Johnson lead to our current mess, in fact it is the exact opposite. The deregulation of such as credit default swaps, snuck through a lame duck Congress by an unscrupulously dishonest Phil Gramm, added at the last minute to an omnibus bill weighing about a hundred and ten pounds and signed in the closing minutes of his administration by William Jefferson Clinton is but one example of the danger of deregulation and the absolute wrong-headedness of your position.

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By aquarius7251, October 16, 2009 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment

Marie - excellent article. I see the “NO” party supporters have already jumped on this and are ignoring the message you tried to convey, blaming it all on the progressives.


Never mind - they will soon wilt into obscurity because they have no purpose, no plan, no idea what happened, and no idea how to fix it. And only Rush, Glenn and Sarah Youbetcha to fall back on. Hoo boy!

Now - to your article - you are right on when you lay the blame on corrupt politicians and lobbyists. But our politicians would not be vulnerable and tempted if we didn’t HAVE this phenomenon called “lobbying”.

Now come on - does anyone actually believe that a bank, insurance company, pharmaceutical company, would give a politician a “campaign contribution” of tens of thousands, even millions - out of the goodness of it’s iddy biddy little heart?

They WANT SOMETHING. Hello - wake up. We should be clogging the streets of Washington with protest marches every day from now till they BAN the concept of LOBBYING altogether and impose the death sentence on anyone that tries to bribe a politician! Oh - and life imprisonment for any politician that accepts a bribe!

You all thought Al Capone went to jail and died there. Think again - he bribed his way out, changed his identity, and MOVED TO WASHINGTON where he ran banking, insurance company and pharmaceutical company PROTECTION RACKETS till he died.

Organized crime is alive and well and living in corporate boardrooms and on capitol hill.

Of course, it’s not only the politicians and the lobbyists that are to blame. WE THE PEOPLE have contributed greatly to our own misery.

Why is it that we cannot seem to see past TWO NAMES on our ballot papers? Why is it that we keep electing the same crooks over and over again? Do we honestly believe that candidates cannot do a good job unles they are a member of a PARTY that begins with a D or an R?

How’s that belief been working for you America? You have no job, no health care, no 401K left, no savings and no home any more! They’ve taken it all!

What are you going to do about it? You think the founders wrote the constitution so you could let gangsters trample it underfoot?

For God’s sake - wake up already!

Marie - good luck to you. I have not always agreed with everything you write, but I have always enjoyed your articles.


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By Firbolg, October 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms. Cocco has the chronology correct but not the players. To whit:The myths that led us to this pass did not materialize by chance. They were conjured up by conservatives intent on dismantling the New Deal society that reigned through the 1960s—a society that produced the world’s most robust middle class. They are fed by lawmakers in both parties who depend on campaign contributions from powerful interests.
Sorry, Ms. Cocco. Conservatives didn’t dismantle anything. As the derivation suggests, they conserve, not dismantle.

The Liberal-Progressives gave life to the process during the mid 60’s Great Society days with an increasing intervention by the Federal government into every facet of daily life…. all in the name of ‘the greater good’. The proliferation of Federal rules and regulations and their application, often without a scintilla of common sense, by a Federal bureaucracy concentrated in Washington, D.C. and detached from the consequences of those impositions also had consequences. By interfering in the free-market exercise of creative destruction, government choses winners and losers. By limiting individual choice through artificial restraints on the availability of products and services, the government undermines the concept of personal responsibility and engenders ever increasing dependency on government… at ever increasing societal and economic cost.

So, don’t blame Conservatives. They didn’t destroy the Middle Class. The Liberal-Progressives did!

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By BobZ, October 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment


I have enjoyed your columns in Truthdig - they were always enlightening and
entertaining reading. Your last column struck a nerve with me. As an IT
manager I saw first hand the dismanteling of the social contracts between
workers and employers which started during the latter part of the Reagan
administration. Top managment brought in HR consultants who started using
the word “entitlements” when referring to fringe benefits. They made it sound
like we were undeserving of these benefits even though they were part of the
agreements in writing of the benefits we would receive in exchange for our
work. Next came the removal of merit increases in favor of one time “bonus”
payments, so paychecks would not grow based on previous merit increases.
Then came the outsourcing where you went to work for a new employer as a
contractor to your former company. After that came reassignments to areas far
from the state you lived in. Finally came the layoff and the necessity to look for
work at age 62. Luckily I found work but I found out first hand the how long it
takes an older person to find a job. And I count myself one of the lucky ones. I
actually get several defined benefits each month and my full social security and
401k’s and IRA’s as financial backup. In the meantime, my former employer has
elminated defined pension for all new hires, increased the workweek, and
moved more employees out of state. Many of my former colleagues are now
out of work, and the ones still working constantly complain about the long
hours and workplace harrassment.And adding insult to injury, they lost 50% of
their 401k retirement savings last year in the financial meltdown. The American
Dream seems like a cruel hoax except for the top 1% who control half of the
wealth in this country, while the other 95% share the remaining 50%.

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By NABNYC, October 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

To Ardee and Dylon:  I guess you’re right that we need to define the middle class.  Because in our country, part of the propaganda war by the politicians has been to convince everyone that we are all middle class. 

I know machinests, factory workers, truck drivers, construction workers, who spend their lives working when work is available, enduring regular periods of unemployment, never able to save any money, those people we think of as 3 paychecks away from disaster, yet they believe they are middle class and, therefore, don’t need a union to help them, and are taught to resent the idea of a government safety net. 

They believe they are middle class even though their employers no longer provide healthcare or pensions, they have fewer sick days or vacation, and vacation cannot be accrued, they are usually thrown out of work at 50 and left to troll the retail stores for even lower-wage work, they never own their homes, they can never retire.  Yet they call themselves middle class. 

And they are taught that anybody who is unemployed, gets sick, is on hard times, is just a welfare cheat.  Nobody with any self-respect would ever ask for help.  They also overspend in the pathetic effort to support the public facade that they are part of the middle class. 

Those people, I’ve got no problem with them.  I just wish they’d wake up and realize that the real welfare goes to the corporations, the deck is stacked against them, and one of these days they are at high risk of falling through the cracks.

Whichever one of you said that $50,000 is “middle class”—well, not in my neighborhood.  In my neighborhood, that would be working class, barely able to survive, partly because of the radical increase in the cost of housing.

I do think it’s fair to recognize that we have become a consumer society in which a certain segment—the middle class—is raised from birth to believe that their only duty is to buy and to adorn themselves.  They are the cheapest, leave the worst tips, give the least to the charities, are the quickest to support war, but they and their kids never serve in the military. 

They also ignore the horrors committed in their name, from Vietnam to Iraq, from torture to denial of healthcare, because they are only concerned with getting more money for themselves. 

What percentage of college students (as of last year) had the goal of studying business and finance and working in Wall Street, or in their branch offices?  70%, I believe.  (I just heard Chris Hedges discussing this on Cspan books last week-end).  These middle class kids have no time for public service, teaching, the arts, the humanities, sociology—they want bonuses, hedge fund incomes.  They want to be players.  Do you really think that the propaganda machine has completely failed in brainwashing the children of the middle class? 

So maybe we don’t disagree other than on the question of how do you define the middle class.  I would say that the bottom 20% (in income and assets) are the poor, the top 5% are rich, everyone from 80% to 95% are middle class.  Everyone else is working class, but they just don’t know it.

And Ardee: you can disagree with my comments, but when you attack me personally—saying I know nothing about the subject—it is a cheap shot and serves no purpose other than to make yourself look bad.  I grew up in a working class family—military—and lived in working class neighborhoods with the families of truck drivers and factory workers.

Now I work in an area with the middle classes, and the majority of them are Republicans and support the war, oppose unions, are racists and hate the fact that we have a black President, support “free” trade and outsourcing, watch Fox News, and could care less if their fellow Americans don’t have healthcare.  They are a community lacking in morals but big on fancy churches which tell them that they should earn more money because God wants them to be rich.

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By rawdawgbuffalo, October 16, 2009 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

so in other words the dollar is just ink and paper

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By ardee, October 16, 2009 at 3:39 am Link to this comment

NABNYC, October 15 at 7:42 pm #

I disagree slightly.

I think what we need is a solid working class.  Screw the middle class.  The middle class never did anything good for this country or for anyone.


Apparently you disagree greatly.wink The Middle Class in this nation, or any other for that matter, despite your cartoonish characterizations thereof,has always been a great force for democratization, has always educated their children thus becoming a danger to the ruling classes. This is why that class is under attack, that is precisely why our middle class is shrinking .

You are rather critical of something you apparently know little about. I honestly wish you would do a bit of research on the impact of the middle class on democratization and a healthy economy as well.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, October 16, 2009 at 1:49 am Link to this comment


Not sure what middle class you’re referring to but it is not the one I was part of most of my life.  I was solidly middle to even upper middle class and never partook of all the indulgences you point out.  I had a nice but not terribly large home in a small Connecticut town.  I had 2 cars (Saturns) because both of us worked.  I raised 2 kids who have both worked very hard to create their own lives and they asked for nothing to get there other than a little help with school.  We took vacations when we could but only a few were even remotely extravagant (mostly camping or a few days at the shore).  We were avid recyclers and tried to not be the worthless nothings you complain about.

The middle class you have so much contempt for was made up of professional people (engineers and the like), the trades (plumbers, electricians, etc), auto workers and other unionized blue collars and ...  Not exactly the blood suckers you have ravaged so badly in your post.  They paid their taxes, raised their children to be good citizens and participated in all the sports and community activities that make our towns nice places to live.

You are talking about the upper class, the only group which had enough money to do all the things you savage the middle class for doing.

Oh, by the way, middle class is defined by household income.  The last time I looked, the number was around $50K per year.  Not exactly a staggering sum of money in this day.

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By samosamo, October 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm Link to this comment

The middle class was encroaching on the elite and their immediate underling
ass kissers meaning that more ‘undesirables’ we infecting their exclusive club
and that would never do, so that was the mission of the neocon think tanks,
stop the middle class from making more than what is realistic to the ‘uppers’,
would decide it to be better if they got that money by maximizing profits and
minimizing costs especially in ‘globalizing’ economy by off shoring jobs and
turning what were useful public services to privatized grand larceny and now
corporations are openly making and intensifying lobbying(which is criminal
bribery no matter how you look at it) to help maintain the class percentages.

I don’t see any difference in invading, occupying and destroying other
countries from what is a real ‘war on the middle class’, so don’t expect to see a
healthy middle class again until all those loopholes and dastardly deeds used
to continue the ‘great divide’ or disappearing act for a that healthy middle to

Doesn’t the whole ideology of vertical and horizontal economics and business
seem a little bit or a big bit unhealthy for a country’s viability?

And why is it that bribery of government and judicial personages is still an accepted way of acting a government at the cost of the middle class?

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By NABNYC, October 15, 2009 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment

I disagree slightly. 

I think what we need is a solid working class.  Screw the middle class.  The middle class never did anything good for this country or for anyone.  All they do is stare in the mirror, raise self-absorbed useless kids, use way more than their fair share of everything, vote Republican, support the NRA, crowd the right-wing churches, fund the lunatics, and look down on everyone else. 

The problem with the term “middle class” is that it is a phrase adopted by Bill Clinton as a way to signal to the corporate elite that under his rule, the Democratic party would no longer represent working people, no longer represent the unions, women, blacks, the excluded, the minorities, the poor, the deprived. 

Under the new Democratic Party created by Bill Clinton and Terry McCauliffe, the Democrats would represent people that used to be called Republicans.  People with big houses, new houses, 3 cars with garage space for each, all the kids go to college without any aid because none is needed, they take vacations every year, spend lots of money at the mall, and mostly get rich by stealing from everyone else. 

This is the much-exalted “middle class.”  They are self-indulgent, get most of the plastic surgery, drive big cars, don’t recycle, don’t care about anybody else.  I could argue they are the most destructive group of people in the entire world.  They didn’t want unions, either—they thought they were too good for that.  So now they’ve been screwed too.  Well, too bad.  Good riddance. 

My preference would be if the Democrats either returned to representing the working class (a phrase they will not even say, ever, in public) or that a new party be created to support the working class and the poor.

Because you know what?  The working class and the poor are the big majority of people in this country.  And they’ve got nothing in common with the middle class. 

For the working class, it isn’t like their employer stopped funding their 401k—they never had one. A lot of them don’t even have their teeth left, because they’ve never had dental care, and don’t make enough to pay dentists.  Their kids don’t go to college because there’s no money.  They have no assets.  You know that saying that people are 3 paychecks away from sleeping in their cars—that’s these people.  And the middle class never did a thing to help anyone in the working class.  So screw the middle class.

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By Ed Harges, October 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

I’m not so sure that America’s formerly comfortable existence as a “middle-class
nation” was founded on anything preservable or worth preserving. After WWII, the
US - owing to the near-total destruction of Europe - was virtually the only major
economy left standing. Was that ever a sustainable basis for our economic

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By ardee, October 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

I have been noting that America is sinking towards third world status for a rather long time. Usually, when noting such I am derided for that belief. Derision doesn’t bother me all that much actually.

I would add that Ms. Cocco’s articles will be missed. She had the knack for eloquently pointing out the problem.

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By Anarcissie, October 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment

‘The phrase missing from this conversation is “labor union”. ...’

I would say that is strongly related to the fact that, in the U.S.,  working-class people don’t think of themselves as working-class but middle-class.

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By G.Anderson, October 15, 2009 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment

Without the middle class who will pay for everything?

The wealthy ? No, they have lobbyists that.

And without, the middle class providing money, America’s standard of living and her ability to have a role in world poltic’s will markedly decline.

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By Angel Gabriel, October 15, 2009 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s sad that when you see a glimmer of hope on the horizon that it so quickly disappears. Change that you can believe in has turned into “What change?” once again as the Carnival tent is pulled down after the s-election process. Who were they talking to when the statement was made?
Excellent historical reference and balance in this article - well done Marie! You called it like it was/is!

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By Ranselar VanDerpoel, October 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment
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In 1976, I read in Samuelson’s economics text book that the government had eliminated the middle class in 1947. I might add that there is no difference between capitalism and the old feudal system. Welcome to the new world order! Don’t you just love this great “Land of Lies” Marie, I wish you the best!

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By jeff, October 15, 2009 at 11:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The phrase missing from this conversation is “labor union”. The middle class was
built from decades of militant activities centered around labour unions. Union
supporters resisted against police attacks, assassinations, and other forms of
repression, and won the day because of determined selfless struggle. It took a
hundred years to build a reasonably equitable society, and then less than twenty
years to dismantle it.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, October 15, 2009 at 11:02 am Link to this comment

What could convince a corporation—now enjoying few restrictive regulations or
environmental controls, grateful employees working for pennies a day, and
unfettered global distribution unburdened by tariffs—to set up shop in America?

I’m afraid that cat’s out of the bag. A corporation does not (and isn’t supposed to)
care which workforce it exploits, nor which middle class it sells to. China and
India are going to provide the workers and the middle class in the future. It’s
over, over here. The apparatus has chewed us up and has been spitting us out
ever since a ghoulish Ronald Reagan spewed the phrase “trickle down” through a
crooked horsey smile.

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By Anarcissie, October 15, 2009 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

I think the phrase Ms. Cocco wants is not “middle class” but “working class”.  When working-class people—you, for instance—start to believe they’re “middle class” they seem to lose sight of their interests and predicament.

As the brilliant Lars Eighner (Travels With Lizbeth) put it, “I have been on the glass staircase and I have seen all the way to the bottom.”  This is a good vision to keep in mind.  It’s not hard to achieve: there are homeless people not far from where you are now who can point it out to you.  If you have to find employment to make a living, if you have to depend on capitalists, it’s terrain you should become acquainted with.

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By Libra96, October 15, 2009 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

I will miss you Marie… Good Luck!

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By de profundis clamavi, October 15, 2009 at 9:30 am Link to this comment

Too bad this is Marie Cocco’s last column. She’s saying needs to be said again, again, again, again, again, again, and again until enough people get the message.

Obama promised us “Change We Can Believe In”. But he can’t deliver it, even if he understands, despite appearances, what the job requires.

Change We Can Believe In will only begin to occur when enough people realise that the system is broken, it’s not going to get better all by itself, and it can only be changed by confronting and breaking the power of the American corporate/political/military/media ruling class. The current system is great for the ruling class. The richest 1% are about 8 times richer than they were in 1973, but 90% of us are poorer and even the 9% below the top 1% have gained but a little. Milton Friedman/Ayn Rand/Ronald Reagan and their followers have had 30 years to test their ideas, using America as a living laboratory. The results are clear and incontrovertible: helping the rich get richer doesn’t make us all richer; on the contrary, it makes 90% of us poorer. What’s good for the ruling class is bad for the rest of us, and what’s ideal for them is catastrophic for us.

1% of us is only 3 million people, and even amongst them, the last 30 years’ gains in wealth, power and influence have flowed disproportionately to the richest 0.1% (300,000 people). This is a class of people who live in a cocoon of privilege. Issues like healthcare, housing, food, education, transportation, job security and workplace rights are purely abstract, academic notions to these people. Even if they have opinions on the liberal side of the debate of an issue like healthcare, the outcome makes no difference to them. For them, America really does provide the best healthcare in the world. For them, America really does provide the best education in the world. For them, America really is a land of freedom and opportunity - freedom to exploit, that is, and opportunity to pillage. For this tiny class, America really is, as we hear ad nauseam, “the greatest country in the world”.

Unless you attended an elite prep school, college or university you have probably never met one of these people, nor are you likely to do so because you cannot afford their exclusive neighborhoods, gated communities, restaurants, clubs or boxed seats at the ball game. Ask yourself this: would you miss them if they were gone?

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By hark, October 15, 2009 at 8:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think it is inevitable that the American middle class declines, as economic globalization equalizes the standard of living throughout the world by seeking out the lowest labor costs, and the least onerous workplace regulations.  I think the rich know this, and are exacerbating the process by stealing everything they can for themselves, so they don’t suffer.  So only the peons do.

Think about it.  With only 5% of the earth’s population, we consume 25% of its resources.  Mother earth cannot possibly support 6.5 billion people in the style we are accustomed to.  Nowhere near it.  But economic globalization means that eventually living standards will reach an equilibrium, and that will mean ordinary people in rich nations lose, while the peasants in poor countries win. 

Our government is either blind to this, or afraid to tell us what is happening.

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By Jim Yell, October 15, 2009 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The things to do to restore economic equilibrium:

1. Bring back usury laws and make usury a crime and do away with compound interest and balloon payments.

2. Raise minimum wage to what it was worth,when it was truely a minimum wage for living.

3. Do away with the ruse of employing, but not employing your workers.

4. National Health Care, pure and simple.

5. Probably the most improtant restore the taxes on the wealthy and perhaps even a punitive tax for incomes over a billion dollars.

6. Restore the laws demanding open bidding for government contracts and do not allow increased payments, make them bid by job.

7. Break up corporate monopolies or dismantle incorporation all together. In fact break up all monopolies and recognize interlocking corporations as what they are an illegal monopoly.

8. Do away with state secrets except for a none renewal 6 month period. Make illegal prosecuting people for talking about a secret that is not secret and hasn’t been a secret for years.

9. Pass a law that forbids retiring elected officials and millitary top brass from accepting jobs with businesses that are tied to their previous state functions for at lest 10 years after they leave government service. Recognize it for what it has become and probably always was a delayed bribe and opportunity to deal behind the scenes.

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By Ouroborus, October 15, 2009 at 7:01 am Link to this comment

hidflect, October 15 at 9:30 am #

Not quite; in Thailand when manufacturing jobs
disappear; many/most of the laid off workers go home
to their family’s farms in Issan or other of the 76
provinces. Because it is a predominately agricultural
area/economy they can help the family on their farms.
North Americans don’t have that luxury or
opportunity. In Thailand a person can fish for free
and eat from most any vacant lot because food just
grows wild and is there for the picking. Those
marginally employed in the large cities are also at
risk; just like in the west. IMO there is no comparison between Thailand and the west;
economically or culturally.

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By Rodger Lemonde, October 15, 2009 at 6:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The heart of the problem is a shortage of class all
around. The old firms with integrity have been sold
and resold like the contents of a dollar store. Every
thing is up for bid including us. Class is an
endangered species.

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By 45echo, October 15, 2009 at 6:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The first thing to do is to attack everything Obama does on the economy.  He is one of the enemies.  Those who don’t support the American way of life, which is a middle class lifestyle for the masses, is an enemy of America.  The Democrats as well as the Republicans.  If the Republicans are the Traitor Party, then the Democrats are the Co-opted Enabling Party.

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By hidflect, October 15, 2009 at 6:30 am Link to this comment

The “plan” whether conscious or not, is to turn America into a Thailand style economy. There’s the central business districts and the outlying areas. As demand picks up in the CBD’s cheap labour is sucked in from the provinces and dispensed with again when there’s lag. All indicators are simply bent to measure these CBD’s as the vast proportion of the economy while the masses are left squatting in the countryside awaiting a chance to be called in. Anyone talented or good looking enough has a chance to flow into the pipeline of labour servicing the city machine allowing the aristocracy ruling the concrete kingdoms to claim their society is a true meritocracy.

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By GW=MCHammered, October 15, 2009 at 5:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

National Strike Week yet anyone?
Nah. Didn’t think so.

James McMurtry “We Can’t Make It Here”

George Walker = Middle Class Hammered

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By SouthTexas, October 15, 2009 at 5:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Author wrote:
“This is my final column. Thanks to my loyal readers and dedicated regional editors who have kept a place in their papers and in their minds for the kind of journalism I have worked to provide”.
Best of luck.

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By Jean Gerard, October 15, 2009 at 5:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cheer up, you guys!  Jeez!  What’s really happening is that we are moving toward the classless society you’ve been dreaming about.  In that regard, two classes is more classless than three, right?  Pretty soon we’ll be reduced to just the rich and the poor. And everybody knows that it’s written that people get what they deserve, so that’s why we can’t allow a “safety net” or “public health care” or “welfare” or any of those “socialist” ideas. And if you’re worried about what you’ll do for a job, there’s always the military, the paramilitary, law enforcement and maintenance work in prisons and hospitals.  (PS—This is sarcasm.  I ain’t takin’ any chances with this venue!)

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, October 15, 2009 at 4:14 am Link to this comment

Reaganomics in action!  Whatever corporations want, give it to them!  They are, after all, the true employers of our political elite.  Why listen to your customers or employees ... it’s more important to meet some analyst’s estimates so the stock price doesn’t take a nosedive.  We have created this strange Orwellian world where the weak become the strong and power migrates to the insignificant.  Why are we genuflecting to the “elites” on Wall Street?  Why does a company believe that some idiot in a silk suit knows more about their business than they do?  And what happened to the idea of creating value as a business model?  Screw your customers and trash your loyal employees so you can get that obscene bonus and watch the company you manage disappear.  Does that make even the most remote bit of sense?

America became strong because we created the most stable middle class in history.  Now we flush them, along with our blue collar workers, down the drain so some shark can make his obscene bonus while creating zero real value.  Is that the future our political elite wants for this country?  At the current rate, we will soon be on par with all the 3rd world countries we used to turn our nose up at.  Banana republic here we come!

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By Ouroborus, October 15, 2009 at 3:47 am Link to this comment

“Looking for a Middle Class” may be like trying to
find a tortoise with a mustache. There is nothing
being done to “fix” anything. There is no one
repairing the systemic failures in the economic
structure of the U.S. The rampant corruption is not
only going unpunished, but in many cases being highly
rewarded. It reminds me of Neo facing reality in the
Matrix; “Welcome to the real world.”
U.S. citizens are ill prepared for their new reality;
saving every penny they can, paying cash, dumping the
credit cards, driving a car long past the last
payment, living in a real house in a real
neighborhood, no more Starbucks, cooking 95% of their
meals at home, shopping with coupons, buying only
things on sale, learning how to sew, wearing wool
instead of designer fleece, heating their house to 65
and not 68 or 70, and the list goes on and on and on.
There is going to be a major paradigm shift and it’s
now. People are going to die; not from street crime
but from societal neglect because your government
infrastructure can’t respond to the needs of
citizens. Maybe you’ll re-learn what a real community
is all about. One can see this from 2 points of view;
a call to action or a time to give up and die.

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