The Rise of the Have-Nots

The American middle class has toppled into a world of temporary employment, jobs without benefits, and retirement without security.

Harold Meyerson | September 28, 2007 |

Last week over lunch, a friend in his 30s prodded me to explain how my generation, the boomers, had botched so many things. While not exactly conceding that we had, I said that the one thing none of us had anticipated was that America would cease to be a land of broadly shared prosperity. To be born, as I was, in mid-century was to have come of age in a nation in which the level of prosperity continued to rise and the circle of prosperity continued to widen. This was the great given of our youth. If the boomers embraced such causes as civil and social rights and environmentalism, it was partly because the existence and distribution of prosperity seemed to be settled questions.Nor were we alone in making this mistake. Our parents may have gone through the Depression and could never fully believe, as boomers did, that the good times were here to stay. They remembered busts as well as booms. But the idea that the economy could revert to its pre-New Deal configuration (in which the rich claimed all the wealth the nation created while everyone else just got by), the notion that the middle class might shrink even as the economy grew: Who, among all our generations and political persuasions, expected that?

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