Being In the Middle Class Means Worrying About Falling Behind

Source: Ronald Brownstein, National Journal, April 25, 2013
(subscription required)

Americans still believe they can reach for the stars, but they are increasingly fearful they are standing on a trapdoor as they try. That’s the deeply ambivalent message from the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll exploring the public’s perception of what it means to be middle class in America today. Fully 56 percent of those surveyed said they believe they will eventually climb to a higher rung on the economic ladder than they occupy now. But even more said they worry about falling into a lower economic class sometime in the next few years. …What could government to do buffer Americans from this financial insecurity? Given a choice of four public policies, a 38 percent plurality picked “making higher education more affordable and accessible.” Smaller groups wished to make health care more affordable (26 percent), make retirement benefits “more secure and reliable” (16 percent), and make home loans and refinancing “more affordable and accessible” (12 percent). Asked what steps private-sector businesses could take to improve conditions for the middle class, the leading preference was “hiring more people and paying higher wages and better benefits” (40 percent), followed distantly by “investing more in their local communities” (20 percent), and lowering prices for consumers (14 percent). But there’s a problem: Most Americans lack confidence that the nation’s leaders, public or private, will respond to their worries….