The Other America is the Majority

From Richard Florida:

America’s stark class divides are a product of its ongoing economic transformation. As the ranks of the working class have shrunk due to the devastating one-two punch of automation and globalization, two other classes have swelled. On the one hand, there is the creative classof scientists and engineers; business professionals and knowledge workers; artists, entertainers, media workers and cultural creatives. Numbering more than 40 million, they account for almost a third of the American workforce. With average annual earnings of more than $70,000, they collect almost half of all U.S. wages and salaries and control some 70 percent of the nation’s discretionary income.

But in parallel, another much larger class has arisen. More than 60 million Americans belong to the service class. These are some of America’s fastest-growing job categories, such as food preparation, personal care, and retail sales, but on average they earn just over $30,000 in annual wages, and many quite a bit less than that.

The math is terrifying. Add the ranks of the unemployed, the displaced, and the disconnected to these tens of millions of low-wage service workers, and the population of post-industrialism’s left-behinds surges to as many as two-thirds of all Americans. This is a much larger, and perhaps more permanent, version of the economic, social, and cultural underclass that Michael Harrington long ago dubbed “the other America.” In fact, it is our majority.

Yes, it’s that many and it’s that bad.

Worse yet, the ranks of the 66 percent are a product of the very structure of post-industrial capitalism. If the top third of America’s workers are navigating and prospering in the knowledge economy, the other two-thirds are disconnected and sinking. And if things continue to go in the direction that they have been, their children and their grandchildren will be too.

You’d never know this from our politicians, who either ignore or elide both the depths of these workers’ troubles and the staggering extent of their numbers. For all the deserved criticism Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney received for his remarks about the 47 percent, Democrats are just as deep in denial. President Obama might have bailed out the car companies, but manufacturing’s glory days are in the past. Just 6.5 percent of domestic workersare involved in directly producing manufacturing products.

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