Whether directly or indirectly, the fate of the middle class underlies most every aspect of the 2016 election. Given today’s economic realities, this is hardly a surprise.
Wages for the typical private-sector worker, adjusted for inflation, are still about where they were in the 1970s, even as the costs of core middle-class goods such as housing, healthcare, child care, and higher education have grown rapidly. Economic output per person has nearly doubledover the past four decades, but the vast majority of these gains have gone to those at the very top. In fact, the share of the nation’s income going to the top 1 percent is near-record levels, while the share received by the middle class — the middle 60 percent — is about the lowest ever since the government began tracking this data in the late 1960s. In 1973, the typical CEO of the top publicly traded companies made around $1.1 million, or about 22 times what the typical worker made. Today, the average CEO makes $15.5 million, or about 275 times what the typical worker makes.
President Obama’s economic policies are starting to push the country in the right direction and mitigate extreme inequality. For instance, incomes for the middle class grew by a record amount in 2015. But to strengthen and grow the middle class further, the United States needs many more years of gains like these — which is why the 2016 presidential candidates have focused on the longstanding troubles of the middle class and the country’s extreme levels of inequality.This article was originally published in Real Clear Policy.