I got a White House email dated 7/21. It spoke of Pres. Obama's economic vision - "a vision that says America is strongest when everybody's got a shot at opportunity". It goes on to describe it as "a consistent vision for the middle class".
I feel there are aspects of this which need to be addressed. Before I discuss the issues, let me make clear it's not my intention to single-out Obama for something which is widespread. However, Obama's staff happened to be the ones who sent me an email calling this an "economic vision" and making an effort to draw attention to it.
I've seen wording like this over and over from our politicians and media. Virtually every time we hear mainstream talk about who in the country might not be getting what they need, who needs "opportunity", etc. - what we're told is "the middle class" (or sometimes "small business"). Yes, as income inequality grows in the US, there are more people who used to have middle incomes and are now more in the lower income range. But are we supposed to sift through the people in lower incomes, find those who used to have middle incomes, and then help them while ignoring the rest?
The middle income section of our society is shrinking. Companies are moving operations to cheap labor countries. And moving other operations to states with anti-union laws, lower minimum wages, lower average incomes and fewer government services for the needy. The current federal minimum wage is far lower than the federal minimum wage of 1968 [if expressed in 2013 dollars]. Over the past period, most companies have eliminated their pension plans. Executive pay has skyrocketed, but real wages for the rest of us have declined. The fact that more people are poor today isn't just a matter of being lazy or something. These are problems that don't only apply to those who currently are or previously were getting middle incomes.
To anyone who believes we should just be talking about "the middle class" and assume the poor brought poverty upon themselves, I say: Offer an appropriate job with decent pay to every person who lacks one [and doesn't have a medical reason preventing it] and give the job to any who accept the offer. Then you can feel holier than thou about people who refuse the offer. If you ask me where will we get all these jobs, I ask back, "If there simply are no jobs the poor could be employed in, why are you blaming them for being poor?"
I'm also uncomfortable about the White House's "...America is strongest when everybody's got a shot..." First of all, this is a basic humanitarian concept. Fairness and opportunity is not something that applies to some people and not to those in other nations. But even if you don't really care that strongly about what happens to people "over there", we live in a globalized world. If one can't look at things from any perspective than a selfish one, you can still see this from that vantage point. When workers in third world countries have to work in fire-trap sweatshops for a pittance, in response market forces push down wages, benefits and working conditions in the US. We're hurting ourselves somewhat by speaking of what we should be doing in only one country - and we will be causing even greater harm to our children by that approach.
The dog-eat-dog world promoted by many conservatives may bring that harm to us and our children at a faster pace. Nevertheless, by focusing on "the middle class" and "Americans", we let the 1% divide and conquer. It's a losing strategy for the 99%. It's not an "economic vision" which puts us in the best position to be humanitarians or to simply stop further victimization by the 1%.