By Michael Krieger at Liberty Blitzkrieg
I write a lot about the middle class. It’s been one of the core themes here at Liberty Blitzkrieg since inception, yet my posts tend to be filled with statistics and sarcasm, and often lack the crucial element of heart. In order to truly connect with the public and shift their sentiments from apathy to action, it’s imperative to create a deep emotional connection. I admittedly have not done a great job in this regard. Fortunately for all of us, Eli Saslow of the Washington Post has done just that.
I read a lot of articles, and I can’t remember anything that hit me as hard as what he published this past weekend. It tells the tale of the spirit-crushing decimation of the American middle class through the lens of eternal optimist, Chris Setser. Chris is a man who always went above and beyond in order to provide a good life for himself and his family. Working the graveyard shift at an Indiana United Technologies plant so that he could be home when his kids came home from school, Mr. Setser lived his entire life living by the mantra: “Things have a way of working in the end.” Until they didn’t.
Chris’ transformation from an optimistic Democrat, to a pissed off, jaded Trump supporter, is a microcosm for what’s happening all across the country. Through his eyes, you witness a justified desperation, and a painful recognition that working hard and staying positive simply aren’t good enough in America’s current hollowed out, oligarch-owned, shell company of an economy.
Below, I provide some excerpts from the article, but these select passages don’t do it justice. I think this piece is so important, it’s imperative you read it in full and share it with everyone you know. The future of America rests upon reversing this pernicious trend.
From the Washington Post:
HUNTINGTON, Ind. —Chris Setser worked a 12-hour graveyard shift while his children slept, cleaned the house while they were at school and then went outside to wait for the bus bringing them home. He stood on the porch as he often did and surveyed the life he had built. The lawn was trimmed. The stairs were swept. The weekly family schedule was printed on a chalkboard. A sign near the door read, “A Stable Home Is A Happy Home,” and now a school bus came rolling down a street lined by wide sidewalks and American flags toward a five-bedroom house on the corner lot.
“Right on time,” Setser called out to the driver, waving to his children as they came off the bus.
In came 14-year-old Ashley, holding a payment notice for a school field trip. “Are we going to become one of those families with a voucher?” she asked.
“Don’t worry,” he said, handing her $20 from his wallet.
All around him an ideological crisis was spreading across Middle America as it continued its long fall into dependency: median wages down across the country, average income down, total wealth down in the past decade by 28 percent. For the first time ever, the vaunted middle class was not the country’s base but a disenfranchised minority, down from 61 percent of the population in the 1970s to just 49 percent as of last year. As a result of that decline, confusion was turning into fear. Fear was giving way to resentment. Resentment was hardening into a sense of outrage that was unhinging the country’s politics and upending a presidential election.
Setser had heard rumors earlier in the day that the company had decided to move its operations to Mexico, but he found them hard to believe. While dozens of other manufactures had left Northeast Indiana, his factory, United Technologies Electronic Controls, or UTEC, was still taking back contracts from China and winning president’s awards for performance. It was the area’s largest employer and also a rare place where America’s fraying social contract had remained mostly intact: Employees helped the factory’s parent corporation earn more than $6 billion in annual profit. In return they got a decent hourly salary with good overtime, bonuses for completing work-training programs, a turkey to take home on Thanksgiving and a ham on Christmas. “Successful businesses improve the human condition,” read one sign posted on the factory wall.
But on that night in February, another announcement had come over the factory speakers, instructing all UTEC employees to report to the cafeteria. The factory manager was standing at the front of the room, holding a piece of paper and reading into a microphone.
“A difficult decision,” he said.
“Relocation is best,” he said.
“Northern Mexico,” he said.
“No questions,” he said, and then he told employees they would have an hour-long break in the cafeteria to process the news before returning to their lines.
Together between his overtime and Bowers’s small salary at another manufacturer in Fort Wayne, they had remained firmly in the middle class by finding ways to make their money stretch. When they wanted to drive to Florida for their first overnight vacation in a decade, Setser could volunteer for more overtime to save up the cash. When they wanted a new TV, he could spend the 10 percent premium he earned for working third shift. He had cashed out part of his 401(k) account to pay for his daughter’s braces, purchased some of their basic household items with credit cards and taken out a no-money-down loan on their $95,000 house.
He had made the drive enough times to already suspect what he might find. Stride Rite had left Huntington for Mexico at the tail end of the recession; Breyers Ice Cream had closed its doors after 100 years. In the weeks after each factory closing in his part of Indiana, Lewandowski had listened to politicians make promises about jobs — high-tech jobs, right-to-work jobs, clean-energy jobs — but instead Indiana had lost 60,000 middle-class jobs in the past decade and replaced them with a surge of low-paying work in health care, hospitality and fast food. Wages of male high school graduates had dropped 19 percent in the past two decades, and the wealth divide between the middle class and the upper class had quadrupled.
“These jobs aren’t the solution so much as they’re part of the problem,” Lewandowski said, and now the result of so much churn was becoming evident all across Indiana and lately in Huntington, too. Fast-food consumption was beginning to tick up. Poverty was up. Foreclosures were up. Meth usage up. Heroin up. Death rate up. In Dan Quayle’s Middle America, one of the biggest news stories of the year had been the case of a mother who had let her three-week-old child suck heroin off her finger.
“Despair is our business, and business is booming,” Lewandowski said. “Workers have lost all agency in their lives. They’ve based their lives on believing in something that turned out to be a lie. They work when they can, for what they can, for as long as they can until it ends.”
As second shift finished in Huntington, several of those UTEC workers gathered at an Applebee’s that displayed construction hats on the wall. Earlier in the day, an employee had been suspended for taping a “Run for the Border” bumper sticker to one of the company’s roving robots — the biggest act of rebellion yet. A few employees had been trying to popularize a boycott of United Technologies products, and others had started using their regular 10-minute breaks to campaign for Trump in a traditionally Democratic factory. But for the most part their work was continuing unchanged, with attendance steady and factory production on the rise. They couldn’t risk losing their jobs or their UTEC severance packages, so the only way to vent was to come here, where the discussion on this night was of a country in decline.
“This is how it feels to be sold out by your country.”“It’s pure greed.”
“They wanted to add another 6 feet to their yachts.”
“We’re becoming like a third-world country. We’re going to have nothing left but fast food.”
“Fast food and hedge funds. That’s where we’re going.”
“We’re getting to the point where there aren’t really any good options left,” he said. “The system is broken. Maybe its time to blow it up and start from scratch, like Trump’s been saying.”
Krystal rolled her eyes at him. “Come on. You’re a Democrat.”
“I was. But that was before we started turning into a weak country,” he said. “Pretty soon there won’t be anything left. We’ll all be flipping burgers.”
“Fine, but so what?” she said. “We just turn everything over to the guy who yells the loudest?”
“You said it always evens out,” she told him.
“Maybe I was wrong,” he said, but now his voice was quiet.
“You said things just have a way of working.”
“Maybe not,” he said, because with each passing day he was seeing it more clearly. The town was losing its best employer, and all around him stability was giving way to uncertainty, to resentment, to anger, to fear.
Haunting and heartbreaking. What’s worse, it’s not just in the manufacturing heartland where the middle class is getting pummeled. In fact, the middle class is getting squeezed so badly, many cities now see a need to roll out public housing projects targeting this formerly independent and relatively prosperous demographic.
Although I previously reported on this as it pertained to the extremely affluent city of Palo Alto in the post, The New “Middle Class” – Making $250,000 a Year in Palo Alto Qualifies for Housing Subsidies, it appears this may be more of a trend than an anomaly.
As the Wall Street Journal reports in the piece, Rising U.S. Rents Squeeze the Middle Class:
Rising rents in cities across the nation are hurting the poorest residents, but those who are higher on the income ladder might be bearing the brunt of the pain.
A study set to be released on Monday shows that a far bigger proportion of middle-class renters in New York were squeezed by rising rents than were the lowest-income renters.
The study by New York University’s Furman Center examined rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section and Harlem, where rents jumped 80% and 53%, respectively, between 1990 and 2014. While the share of the poorest families struggling to afford rent in those sections increased by 7.6 percentage points from 2000 to 2014, the share of middle-income households struggling to afford rent jumped 18 percentage points.
In Boston, median asking rents have increased at an annual rate of 13.2% since 2010, far outstripping the 2.4% average annual increase in income. Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged to build 20,000 units of middle-income housing through a mix of initiatives such as rezoning neighborhoods further from the city center and offering tax breaks to developers who build more moderately priced housing.
“We really do spend the vast majority of our resources on low-income families but we know we need to serve the middle income,” said Sheila Dillon, Boston’s chief of housing.
Even in Atlanta, historically one of the most affordable cities for middle-class families, a rapid rise in rents has taken its toll on those families. The city last week passed a new ordinance requiring developers who receive tax breaks to set aside a portion of units aimed at lower-income earners. It is also considering requiring developers to include units targeted at slightly more affluent families, such as teachers and police officers.
New York City has pledged to build or preserve 44,000 units for middle-income families over the next decade. Low-income households “have been straining to pay their rents in these neighborhoods for years, and, as rents continue to rise, households in higher-income tiers are having the same experience,” said a spokeswoman for New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development Department.
I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the kind of country I want to live in.