Where did the American middle class go? Down.
Appropriately, I realized this Labor Day holiday that the American middle class is now the American working class.
I predict that this will not go over well.
For the purposes of this essay, I define "working class" as those whose work contributes to, or otherwise builds, the foundations of a given economy, ie, the elements of an economy upon which other, larger and/or more profitable elements are built.
The American economy has largely made the transition to a service- and information-based economy; manufacturing-based economies are elsewhere for the most part. What middle-class workers now do is contribute to that service and information sector. America no longer provides the traditional entry into middle-class culture and social mobility through manufacturing jobs requiring few or no skills. Apprenticeships have largely disappeared, replaced by college degrees of varying quality. The current economy requires savvy, specialization, and technical skill, all of which are outside the reach of the traditional working class. As a result, the working class has been bumped down the ladder. With that shift comes a radically higher degree of instability as those being displaced struggle to cope.
Middle-class culture is now the lowest social rung possessing a minimal chance of stability. (Social mobility in America is frozen for the most part.) The former working classes are now the working poor, and the working poor are now more often than not unemployed, risking homelessness and multigenerational dependency on the state. That pool of multigenerational dependents will swell during the next couple of decades as the new social order stabilizes, then entrenches.
How will the middle class react to its displacement?
Where are the new social battle lines going to be drawn after that?