BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Middle Class Still Needs Attention

Right now the welfare of America's middle class is the subject of several books. Senator Byron Dorgan's, Take This Job and Ship It, is a good recent one and of course Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is now a classic. Now come Sen. Chuck Schumer and Daniel Squadron with Positively American: Winning Back the Middle Class Majority One Family at a Time, published in 2006 by Rodale.

Schumer, D-N.Y., is talking about winning this vital group back to the Democratic Party, but what he says describes our whole social structure in which the middle class is losing out economically.

He had the good idea of creating an imaginary but realistic middle-class family to illustrate his ideas. He named them the Baileys, and they live near New York City with their three children. The husband works full time, and h''is wife part time, and they make about $75,000 a year. That doesn't sound bad to me, but the senator says that amount of money would be equivalent to $50,000 in most of the rest of the country. The Baileys are already worried about how they are going to send three children to college.

Then Schumer analyzes what he believes are their social and political ideas. For one, they believe that hard work is still rewarded with success. He imagines then that their parents were New Deal Democrats but that they voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, the first time they were old enough to vote. Now they are "up for grabs" and may think of themselves as independents. They feel left out of politics, believing that our government pays far more attention to the rich and the very poor than to those in the middle. He says, "Joe and Eileen Bailey are all the men and women whose lives are not a desperate struggle to survive but a challenge to improve."

It's funny and somehow comforting that in a little side note Schumer has the right attitude about the best way to spend money. He reports that he and his staff on their travels around the country often stay at a Motel 6, a good choice, I think.

But Schumer does not seem to have many firm answers for the issues he raises at the beginning of the book. And he had trouble resisting writing long accounts of his campaigns. But in the second part of his book he presents what he calls some "50 Percent Solutions."

They do cover many problems. He wants a national goal to be increasing math and reading scores in our public schools by 50%, reducing our dependence on foreign oil by that amount, cutting the high rate of childhood obesity, and several other good goals, not all of them exactly political. But he does not mention minimum wage or starting a universal health care system.

Still, we wish that every senator and representative in Washington would adhere to the spirit of his conclusion about his public service: "I've been hired by Joe and Eileen Bailey of Everytown, USA. They have given me their trust. Their future is at stake. Our country's future is at stake. It is up to us to do everything we can to make sure that we and our children have a future that is positively American."

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2007

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