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Amy Traub

David Brooks: Never Mind the Squeeze

New York Times columnist David Brooks drives me nuts on a regular basis. His latest column is par for the course. Brooks hails conservative Democrats and dismisses the middle-class squeeze as a myth, "detached from the reality most Americans experience." This was particularly interesting to learn as we just finished putting together a DMI overview of the middle class squeeze grounded in that very reality. With the overwhelming majority of Americans agreeing that as a nation we're working "as hard or harder than ever just to get by" and less than a third of voters saying that they personally are getting ahead financially, one wonders who it is that's out of touch.

Economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute makes the point excellently in this letter to the editor:

To the Editor:

In "Who's Afraid of the New Economy?" David Brooks and the analysts he cites use rose-colored glasses and tortured data to dismiss pressing concerns facing the middle class.

They want us to take solace in the fact that the income of the typical prime-age household is in the $60,000 range, but don't mention that this income has fallen 4.4 percent, about $3,000, since 2000.

To these analysts, globalization is not a problem because unemployment is low. Never mind the job quality hit taken by millions of workers who’ve moved from manufacturing to low-end services.

These analysts similarly dismiss inequality concerns caused by the profit squeeze on wages. Yet corporate profits as a share of income are at a 56-year high, while the real earnings of even college graduates are up only marginally since 2000.

The administration made these arguments before the midterm elections. They were rejected by voters for whom the middle-class squeeze is a reality that can't be explained away by political spin.

Jared Bernstein
Washington, Feb. 12, 2007
The writer is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute

But I still have one more beef with this latest Brooks column. Brooks remarks that "the main reason incomes have become more volatile over the past decades is motherhood... as women play a more signficant role in the economy, their movements in and out of the labor force to care for children increase volatility." It's true that having a baby is the leading cause of poverty spells in the U.S., that working mothers are paid less than childless women for the same work, and that married couples with children are twice as likely as childless couples to file for bankruptcy. So what's the upshot, Mr. Brooks: do we fight for paid family leave? Universal pre-school? Health care for all kids? An end to wage discrimination against mothers?

None of these. For Brooks, the fact that becoming a mother causes family incomes to plummet is simply a way to say that falling pay doesn't matter. Pay no attention to the squeeze: it's mostly the people trying to raise the next generation that are getting the worst of it.

Amy Traub: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:46 AM, Feb 15, 2007 in Economic Opportunity | Economy | Letter To The Editor of the Week | Middle-class squeeze
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