What ‘Lost Decade’?
The Truth about Middle Class Decline
Pop quiz: Which of the following is true? (a) Over the past 40 years, the middle class has shrunk; (b) Over the past 40 years, the middle class has grown poorer; (c) The middle class just suffered through a “lost decade”; (d) All of the above.
You could be forgiven for answering (d), given the angst-producing state of discourse on the economy, but the truth is that none of these claims about middle-class decline are supported by the best evidence. A recent report by the Pew Research Center (PRC), “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” is the latest entry in the doom-and-gloom genre, but like other analyses before it the report badly misrepresents the economic standing of the middle class. Pew generally does very good work, and I am a fan particularly of its Economic Mobility Project, the research portfolio of which I managed for three years. But “declinist” analyses are both wrong and insidious, and since PRC’s work is especially influential, its errors deserve a careful examination.