The Crisis of the Shrinking Middle Class

As the Senate renews debate this week on immigration reform legislation and considers the implications for American workers, two timely studies document the shrinking middle class and the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. To help address that situation, the Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a Sanders' amendment to the immigration bill to provide scholarships for Americans studying math, engineering, health care and computer science. The Sanders scholarships would be funded b

As the Senate renews debate this week on immigration reform legislation and considers the implications for American workers, two timely studies document the shrinking middle class and the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. To help address that situation, the Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a Sanders' amendment to the immigration bill to provide scholarships for Americans studying math, engineering, health care and computer science. The Sanders scholarships would be funded by a small fee on businesses who recruit skilled workers from other countries to work in the United States for less than Americans are paid to do the same jobs.

"The great economic crisis facing the United States is the shrinking of the middle class and the loss of millions of good paying jobs," Sanders said. "We must do everything that we can to reverse that trend and make sure that good-paying professional jobs in this country are filled by Americans, not by people brought in from other countries by corporate interests."

According to one recent study, men in their 30s make less money now than their fathers did at the same age. In 2004, the median income for a man in his 30s was $35,010. That's 12 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than what men the same age were making in 1974, according to economists at the Brookings Institution and Pew Charitable Trust.

Another study that bolsters Sanders' case concluded that average earnings of American workers with an undergraduate degree have not kept up with productivity gains. Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists Frank Levy and Peter Temin showed that while graduates certainly did better than non-graduates in recent decades, the average graduate failed to keep up with gains in economy-wide productivity. They presented their study on Tuesday to the New America Foundation.