[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Rise of the Have-Nots

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Sun Sep 30 14:13:16 EDT 2007

Washington Post
September 27, 2007

Rise of the Have-Nots

Why More Americans Are Feeling Shut Out of Good Times

By Harold Meyerson

Yet that's precisely what happened. Median family
income over the past quarter-century has stagnated. The
economic rewards from increased productivity, which
went to working-class as well as wealthy Americans from
the 1940s to the '70s, now go exclusively to the rich.
The manufacturing jobs that anchored our prosperity
were offshored, automated or deunionized; lower-paying
service-sector jobs took their place.

It's no great achievement for a people to recognize
that their nation's economy has tanked, but recognizing
that their nation's class structure has slowly but
fundamentally altered is a more challenging task. It's
harder still for a people who are conditioned, as
Americans are, not to see their nation in terms of

Which is why a poll released this month by the Pew
Research Center reveals a transformation of Americans'
sense of their country and themselves that is
startling. Pew asked Americans if their country was
divided between haves and have-nots. In 1988, when
Gallup asked that question, 26 percent of respondents
said yes, while 71 percent said no. In 2001, when Pew
asked it, 44 percent said yes and 53 percent said no.
But when Pew asked it again this summer, the number of
Americans who agreed that we live in a nation divided
into haves and have-nots had risen to 48 percent --
exactly the same as the number of Americans who
disagreed. ad_icon

Americans' assessment of their own place in the economy
has altered, too. In 1988, fully 59 percent identified
themselves as haves and just 17 percent as have-nots.
By 2001, the haves had dwindled to 52 percent and the
have-nots had risen to 32 percent. This summer, just 45
percent of Americans called themselves haves, while 34
percent called themselves have-nots.

These are epochal shifts, of epochal significance. The
American middle class has toppled into a world of
temporary employment, jobs without benefits, retirement
without security. Harder times have come to left and
right alike: The percentage of Republicans who call
themselves haves has declined by 13 points since 1988;
the percentage of Democratic haves has declined by 12

This equality of declining opportunity, however, isn't
matched by an equality of perception. The percentage of
Democrats who say America is divided between haves and
have-nots has risen by 31 points since 1988; the
percentage of Republicans, by just 14 points. Indeed,
though that 13-point decline in Republicans who call
themselves haves has occurred entirely since they were
asked that question in 2001, the percentage of
Republicans who say we live in a have/have-not nation
has actually shrunk by one point since 2001. (It had
increased 15 points from 1988 to 2001.) Apparently, so
great is Republicans' loyalty to the Bush presidency
that they're willing to overlook their own experience.
And, in many cases, to attribute the nation's
transformation solely to immigration, rather than to
the rise of a stateless laissez-faire capitalism over
which the American people wield less and less power.
Which helps explain why Republican presidential
candidates bluster about a fence on the border and have
nothing to say about providing health coverage or
restoring some power to American workers.

But the big story here isn't Republican denial. It's
the shattering of Americans' sense of a common identity
in a time when the economy no longer promotes the
general welfare. The world the New Deal built has been
destroyed, and we are, as we were before the New Deal,
two nations.

meyersonh at washpost.com

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