In Vermont, the poverty rate increased to 9.4 percent last year, a 1.4 percent increase over 2008, the Census Bureau reported last week. That means nearly one in 10 Vermonters live in poverty. The rising poverty rate provides additional evidence that more people who had considered themselves as part of the middle class are seeing their standard of living slip.
Vermont has fared better than the nation. Roughly 44 million Americans, more than 14 percent of the population, were living in poverty last year, a record. Since 2000, nearly 12 million Americans have slipped out of the middle class and into poverty.
Rebuilding the country's infrastructure, transforming America's energy system, rebuilding the nation's manufacturing sector, and helping small businesses create jobs are the most effective ways to create jobs and expand the ranks of the middle class, Sen. Bernie Sanders said.
Part of accomplishing this goal, he said, is to oppose Republican plans to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
Sanders supports ending tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent while keeping in place tax cuts that expire at the end of this year for the 98 percent of Americans with household incomes under $250,000.
Ending the tax breaks for the rich would yield $700 billion in revenue over the next decade. Sanders proposes devoting half that amount for deficit reduction and the investing the other half in badly-needed, job-creating infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, water systems and public transportation systems.
"At a time when the middle class is collapsing and we have a $13 trillion national debt, we need to create jobs and lower our deficit - not provide more tax breaks for the very wealthiest people in our society," Sanders said.
"In my view, we have got to put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure," the senator said, noting "every $1 billion invested in infrastructure creates or saves over 45,000 American jobs."
Transforming the nation's energy system will also create jobs, helping boost wages and expand the middle class. Sanders called for reducing dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, investing in renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal, and making our country more energy efficient.
Trade policy must also be revamped to bolster the nation's ailing manufacturing sector. "If American corporations want Americans to buy their products, the companies should be making their products here - not in China," Sanders said. "We need to develop a trade policy that increases jobs in America and lifts wages up, not down."
Supporting Vermont's and America's small businesses are also essential to creating jobs and lifting people from poverty into the middle class. Last week, the Senate overcame a Republican opposition to approve a $30 billion lending fund and $12 billion in tax relief to help small businesses create jobs.
"Helping small businesses receive affordable credit is imperative," Sanders said. "Small business creates most of the new jobs in this country and it's important that we do everything we can to help them."
The stark statistical snapshot by the Census Bureau showed the median income of all families in the U.S. declined by $337 from 2008 to 2009, and far below the levels of the late 1990s -- another sign that earnings of for working Americans are declining
Middle-class families have seen their incomes go down by over $2,600 over the past decade going from $52,388 in 1999 to $49,777 last year, after adjusting for inflation. Simply put, middle-class families earned more income in 1998 than they did in 2009.
In Vermont, middle-class families saw their incomes go down last year by $800 from where they were in 2006.