The Vanishing Middle Class
Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy
- 2018 PROSE Award Winner, Economics
- A Financial Times Best Book of 2017.
Why the United States has developed an economy divided between rich and poor and how racism helped bring this about.
The United States is becoming a nation of rich and poor, with few families in the middle. In this book, MIT economist Peter Temin offers an illuminating way to look at the vanishing middle class. Temin argues that American history and politics, particularly slavery and its aftermath, play an important part in the widening gap between rich and poor. Temin employs a well-known, simple model of a dual economy to examine the dynamics of the rich/poor divide in America, and outlines ways to work toward greater equality so that America will no longer have one economy for the rich and one for the poor.
Many poorer Americans live in conditions resembling those of a developing country—substandard education, dilapidated housing, and few stable employment opportunities. And although almost half of black Americans are poor, most poor people are not black. Conservative white politicians still appeal to the racism of poor white voters to get support for policies that harm low-income people as a whole, casting recipients of social programs as the Other—black, Latino, not like "us." Politicians also use mass incarceration as a tool to keep black and Latino Americans from participating fully in society. Money goes to a vast entrenched prison system rather than to education. In the dual justice system, the rich pay fines and the poor go to jail.
The Vanishing Middle Class is a book for our unsettled times. We are a divided nation economically and politically, brought on by recent changes in the demand for and supply of skill layered on top of a long history of racial politics. Part social commentary, part history, part academic inquiry, Temin's book tells us how the two parts of the modern dual economy can be glued back together.
Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics, Harvard University
Arguing that the high-wage sector promotes inequality and deterioration of the middle class through its disproportionate influence on political decision making in various areas such as criminal justice, education, and social welfare policy, The Vanishing Middle Class is a significant addition to the existing literature on inequality.
Gerald Jaynes, Professor, Department of Economics & African American Studies, Yale University
There are a great many books to be read on the problem of growing inequality and the attendant social, political and economic issues that both cause it and result from it. If you had to read only one book on the growing crisis, The Vanishing Middle Class is it. Its powerful combination of race and class analysis doesn't hold back any punches in exposing the deliberate and systematic exploitation of the poor and the racialized by a minority of wealthy and mostly white elites in today's America.