Eduardo Porter’s analysis in the October 30 New York Times explains a lot about what ails America – and what fuels the sense of frustration, anxiety and anger in America these days. Under the headline “Richer But Not Better Off,” he makes a number of crucially important points:

  • Despite recent gains, American prosperity is not widely shared.
  • The American middle class is perhaps the smallest in the industrialized world, including only 70 percent of all non-elderly households. This compares with 86-87 percent in Finland, Norway, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Even Russia at 75 percent boasts a larger middle class.
  • The bottom 20 percent in household incomes account for only 3.4 percent of the total, a decline from their 5.6 percent share in the mid-1970s.
  • The richest 5 percent of American households account for 22 percent of the nation’s income, 6 percentage points higher than in 1975.
  • Income should not be the sole metric of class standings. When consumption, leisure, life expectancy and inequality are considered together as Peter Klenow and Charles Jones of Stanford have done, the US looks “substantially less prosperous” than income alone would indicate.
  • “It is the losers in America’s distribution of prosperity who have the shortest life expectancies. They also are more likely to be obese. The babies … born to nonwhite, less educated mothers … die at disproportionately high rates.”

America can do better.   And it must, if our system is to deliver the Constitutionally-mandated objectives: to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for all. The whole country, indeed the whole world, will be watching to see how the next administration meets the challenges on which our future depends.