Stop Carping About the 1%, Open Your Eyes to the 20%

The upper middle class is where the real problem is, writes columnist
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2017 12:00 PM CDT
   (Getty/Tim Abramowitz)

(Newser) – For all the talk in the US about rising income inequality and the fatcats who make up the 1%, America seems blind to a more prevalent disparity: the upper middle class and all those below them. British transplant Richard Reeves writes in the New York Times that he was surprised to learn upon moving here "that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top." He's talking about households that make at least $200,000, roughly the top 20%. Under the jarring headline of "Stop Pretending You're Not Rich," Reeves makes his main point: "The rhetoric of 'We are the 99 percent' has in fact been dangerously self-serving, allowing people with healthy six-figure incomes to convince themselves that they are somehow in the same economic boat as ordinary Americans, and that it is just the so-called super rich who are to blame for inequality."

People are quick to talk about the cycle of poverty, but less attention is paid to the other end of the scale. Kids born into the upper middle class usually stay there or move up, or, at worst, move down a bit in the ranks. This happens because their parents "engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up" while, inadvertently, making it difficult for the lower ranks to rise. Think zoning laws designed to make neighborhoods more inclusive that are routinely shot down. Or the US tradition under which it's easier for kids to get into a college if their parents are alums. Or policies such as 529 college savings plans, whose benefits go almost exclusively to richer families. It's a "rigged system" that Americans are in denial about. "We need to raise our consciousness about class," writes Reeves. "And yes, I am looking at you." Click for the full column. (Read more wealthy stories.)

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