Numbers tricks mask declining wages and rising inequality

Black Agenda Radio Commentary, Oct. 17, 2007

Numbers Tricks Mask Declining Wages and Rising Inequality

By Glen Ford

U.S. employment numbers have been doctored into meaninglessness, as have all indices of economic growth or decline. Not only is the public incapable of making sense of the nation’s cooked books, but Americans have no idea what “class” they belong to. Almost everyone that is not on public assistance insists they are “middle class” – but where is the true middle? It’s actually a lot further down the income ladder than most folks think, perilously close to what is defined as poverty. The rich long ago discovered that keeping everybody else deluded and disoriented about the real structures of wealth and income allows them to do whatever they choose. If nearly everybody’s in the “middle,” then nobody is anywhere.

New federal data show that income inequality in the United States is higher than it’s been since World War Two, possibly higher than just before the stock market crash and Great Depression of 1929. Americans like to complain about the economy, but they don’t like to hear or read economic news – and that’s understandable. The United States and its media are ruled by huge corporations that have for many generations deformed American English to make the language incapable of making any sense of economics. That way, subjects like vast economic inequalities cannot not be intelligently discussed among the general public – and the rich can keep on getting richer without the rest of us knowing how, or why.

The greatest damage the rich have done to American economic discourse and to the English vocabulary is their purposeful misuse of the term “middle class.” All the politicians and corporate pundits and commentators and so-called journalists throw the term around, constantly, but never give it any specific value or definition.

“Middle class” has become anything you want it to be. Republicans tend to describe people with incomes as high as $200,000 per household as middle class – when, in fact, folks making that much money are in the upper two percent of the population, nowhere near the middle. Corporate propagandists have other tricks to make it appear that Americans are better off than they really are. They prefer to use “average” income data, which throws the very rich – like Bill Gates, who’s worth more than the Gross National Products of at least 70 countries – into the same mix as…you. Because the rich are so dramatically better off than most people, their incomes pull the average way up, making the figure meaningless.

“The real middle class makes about $15 dollars an hour, and dropping.”

Economists and phony journalists in service of the wealthy also prefer to cite “household” income, rather than individual wages, as measurements of economic standing. The more people in the household above the age of 14 that hold jobs, the better things look. The fact that real wages went down two percent between the years 2000 and 2005, might not show up so dramatically, if two or more family members are out there hustling, taking on different jobs at different wages over time. The truth becomes obscured, which is exactly how the rich folks like it. And almost everybody except those who are on public assistance goes around calling themselves “middle class,” with not a clue as to where the “middle” is.

The real “middle” among American wage earners, after deductions for child support and, if you’re lucky, payments into a 401(k), is $30,881 a year. That’s the median wage – not the misleading average wage – meaning, half of employees make more than $30,881, and half make less. Not very impressive, is it? A family of four with one wage earner making $20,000 is officially in poverty in the United States, which is not very far away from the median wage of a little over $30,000. And we haven’t even talked about health care costs and the ever-rising price of housing.

At the same time, the number of millionaires is at a record high, nearing eight million, while the median American worker – the real middle class – makes about $15 dollars an hour, and dropping. No wonder the rich take such pains to scrub the language clean of a vocabulary that could explain how they are stealing the wealth of the nation and the world.


I believe the *real* lie about “middle-class” is its implication that there are people removed from the class struggle, neither working class nor ruling class. Indeed, the ruling class promotes the notion of a “middle class” to deny even the existence of class struggle, in an effort to disarm us.

If “middle class” means anything, it reflects the fact that many decades ago, workers in the US waged a huge struggle that raised many of us to a fairly stable life where we could be fairly confident about food, shelter, education, time with family, and other necessities. These, of course, have been stripped away in the last 35 years.

1 Response to “Numbers tricks mask declining wages and rising inequality”

  1. 1 Bob Fox October 21, 2007 at 9:29 am

    There is no consensus (that I am aware of) for the proper definition of middle class. I agree that “working class” is a much better name for those who get their income from work, but, as was pointed out above, most Americans consider themselves to be middle class. I am going to try to kindle a national grassroots movement of people who consider themselves middle class to improve the financial conditions of the majority of Americans. I want to do this with substantial middle class tax cuts (which will either force the government to tax those who earn the most, or stop wasting money on things like wars for example), and more support for Social Security. But the most important point is to start such a movement. I don’t intend to lead it, or, determine its agenda; at least not by myself, I would like your help for that. But I would like the movement to cut across party lines and have broad popular appeal. My website is still under construction but please visit it at and please e-mail me with any ideas at Thanks, Bob Fox.

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