- - Monday, May 23, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The 21st century has not been kind to the American dream. The dream that brought millions of “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to America rests on the idea that each generation will have it better than the one before it. But a new sampling of economic circumstances of Americans finds that in nearly 90 percent of communities surveyed across the country the middle class is in decline. It’s not the best part of the legacy that President Obama, who arrived at the White House with his famously expressed view that America is no more exceptional than a lot of other nations, is about to leave behind. Mr. Obama has the dubious honor of proving himself right.

A study by the Pew Research Center finds that between 2000 and 2014, the share of adults living in middle-class households declined in 203 of 229 metropolitan areas. At the same time, the proportion of lower-income households grew in 160 communities, as did those in the upper-income tier in 172 areas. The middle class nationwide shrank from 55 percent to 51 percent of the population over the period, the share of lower-class households rose a point to 29 percent, and the proportion of upper-class households grew from 17 percent to 20 percent.

Analysts can point to numerous measures that have hobbled the American economy — Obamacare, which has made employers wary of hiring; falling incomes due to competition for scarce jobs, high corporate taxes on U.S. businesses, and lower spending levels by wary consumers. The high cost of regulation has taken a big bite out of paychecks. A study by the National Association of Manufacturers points out that the average family’s annual pre-tax income totaled $66,877 in 2014. The largest expense in the family budget was housing at $17,798, and the second-largest was cumulative regulation at $14,842. Transportation is a distant third at $9,073. The Competitive Enterprise Institute calls the regulatory impact a “28 percent hidden tax for the family,” and in 2015, it added up to a burden borne by the nation’s families of nearly $1.9 trillion.

It’s clear that the vast American middle class is fading and is on the verge of becoming a minority. That’s an astonishing phenomenon in the land of opportunity. It bodes ill for the future and is a sign of a growing socioeconomic gulf that in many societies leads to trouble in the streets. It’s particularly ironic that the division that Mr. Obama promised to fix has widened under his social and economic policies. Targeting the despised 1 percenters (of whom he is one), the president has missed badly and instead has wounded the mothers and fathers trying to put food on the table for their children.

That always happens when ideologues apply Utopian socialist principles to real-world problems. Bad policies are not redeemed by good intentions, something clearly understood by 67 percent of Americans polled by Rasmussen Reports, who say the nation is on the wrong track. It will fall to some future president, if he or she can, to rebuild the middle class and lead the country back to greatness. It will be an all-day job.

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