How to Grow the Middle Class – A French Lesson

How to Grow the Middle Class – A French Lesson August 20, 2018

What is happening to the Middle Class in this country? In 1980, sixty percent of households were considered to be in the Middle Class. That has now dropped to fifty percent. There are a number of reasons for this, but before we get to them, consider what has happened in France. The Middle Class has grown from 60% to 68% over the same period. Worse yet, the poverty rate for children in two-parent families has gone from 11.3% to 13.6% in the US, while it declined from 8.7% to 8.2% in France.

Haters of any kind of socialism should stop reading now to prevent cognitive dissonance. France is, of course, a socialist country. How can it be that people are doing better there than in this great bastion of capitalism?

I learned this and a lot more from an article in The Washington Spectator, not to be confused with the far-right Washington Times. I highly recommend this little newsletter to anyone who is unhappy with the glorious progress of the wealthiest 1% in this country, at the expense of the rest of us, particularly those who have recently seen their economic fortunes decline.

The writer of the piece is a guy named Steven Pressman, a journalist and author. He recently spent some time in France, and came away with some astute observations about how and why the US and France have gone in opposite directions economically. He identifies three government policies that have helped the French middle class; paid parental leave, affordable childcare and reduced taxes on families with children. All of these have been expanded in France, while in the US, they have been cut back from already deficient levels to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.

In France, the government subsidizes a minimum of eight weeks of paid parental leave around the time of birth or adoption. Under certain conditions, it can continue for up to 34 weeks. The US is the only developed nation that does not have a national paid parental leave program.

For many poor or even lower-middle-class families in this country, a new child is a financial disaster. Many do not have insurance, and must borrow money to cover pre-natal and obstetric costs. If the woman has a job, her income is lost, at least temporarily. A quarter of new mothers in the US are forced to go back to work within ten days after giving birth. That’s bad for the mother’s health, and bad for the baby. And then, the problems continue, with child care costs and the additional expenses of a larger family.

Child care is also subsidized in France, so that even lower-income parents can afford it and can continue to work. In this country, child care costs are often more than a worker’s wages, so many drop out of the work force…and end up on welfare.

And finally, French couples with children pay far lower income taxes compared to childless couples. The dependent deduction in the US is paltry in comparison.

The writer does not mention the fact that France, like most other developed nations, has universal medical care. Unexpected large medical bills are a major cause of bankruptcy, foreclosure and financial collapse, leading to the decline of middle class families into poverty.

There is much more detailed data and statistics in the article. If you read it with an open mind, you will come away asking two questions: If capitalism is so great, how come we have so many people struggling to survive, and that number is growing? If socialism is so terrible, how come so many people in socialist or socialist-leaning countries are doing better than we are?

In our highly religious society, many tears are shed over abortion, but after a baby is born, both the parents and the baby are more-or-less left on their own compared to socialist countries who realize that children are an investment, and helping them grow up to be healthy individuals is not just humanitarian. It’s cost-effective. As the writer says:

“The damaging effects of growing up in poverty are well-known. It limits the educational, intellectual, social and psychological development of children, and reduces the income they will earn over their lifetime. It also increases the chance that, as adults, they will resort to crime, engage in other illegal and antisocial behavior, become incarcerated or rely on the government for economic sustenance.”

It seems that the powers that control our capitalist society are more interested in investments in business than in people. In the short run, that may make some of us wealthier, while impoverishing others. Investing in people is not a zero-sum game. Everybody can win. We need to take some French lessons.

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