January 5, 2017 – Inequality is Only Getting Worse
Donald Trump boasted that his election reflected the “voice of the people,” but it was mostly the voice of fear. And while ingrained racism and misogyny drove much of Trump’s support, his popularity reflected a massive sense of loss: real economic loss, perceived cultural loss, and anticipatory loss for their children’s generation. Just how “real” this decline actually has been, however, depends on where you stand, and where you’re falling from.
A recent study of stratification and eroding quality of life across generations, between races, and between socioeconomic classes sheds light on how America’s so-called “middle class” perceives itself.
Social-inequality trends over the past half century indicate that class divisions are growing more rigid, most are getting worse off, and those at the bottom are falling further, faster by the day. It’s the momentum of change that is causing much of the pain and anxiety, as many self-identified “middle-class Americans” are realizing the truth only now: They were never as well-off as they thought they were.
“Overall, if you look back 30 years, most of the distribution [of wealth] is lower than where it was in the ’80s. So…the typical American family today has less wealth than the typical American family in the ’80s,” says University of Michigan sociologist Fabian Pfeffer, who co-published a new research collection on trends in inequality. And yet, Pfeffer observes, higher on the economic hierarchy, affluent households experienced “the mirror image,” accruing riches and power at others’ expense.
For households losing wealth, Pfeffer found that social insecurity hurts from many different angles: not just in the evaporation of housing and retirement wealth but also through declining health, diminished prospects for their kids, and ensuing despair and anger.