…if you could give me one thing to do to supercharge the economy, I would say, end discrimination across the American economy. Discrimination is holding back our economy. It’s holding back our middle class.
This is the conclusion of journalist Jim Tankersley, who covers economics and tax policy and recently published The Riches of This Land: The Untold, True History of America’s Middle Class.
He has spent over a decade studying the American middle class; how it became a symbol of the American Dream following World War II, how the middle class built one of the world’s most powerful economies, and how powerful interests undermined the gains of the working class. From the 1950s through the 80s, middle-class households with a single income earner could afford a home, car, health care, a college education…even vacations and retirement savings.
The erosion of the middle class means that today, most full-time workers are underwater as full-time work too often leaves many in poverty and debt. At the start of 2021, analysis indicates the extended pandemic and recession have resulted in the Sharpest Rise in Poverty Rate in More Than 50 Years.
…if you were to design a recession to hurt most the people who have most helped to build the American middle class, you would design basically this one.
Tankersley advocates for policies that help those people responsible for the growth and productivity of the middle class from the 50s through the 80s, which he describes as, “women of all races…men of color and immigrants.” We hear time and again that these are the workers hurt most in the current recession. Women are the default caregivers when schools and child care centers are closed; they are most likely to care for elderly parents, and they the most likely to lose employment opportunities or promotions as a result.
Next to women, people of color and immigrants—often serving as essential workers—have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the lack of health care and sick leave, and the cascading impacts on employment options. This follows a steady decline in purchasing power and stability over the past 40 years.
This perspective draws the same conclusion as those pursuing economic resilience from a fair housing approach, which recognizes the access to opportunity afforded by housing types and price points distributed across regions, communities and neighborhoods. When everyone has access to stable housing and essential community assets, we all benefit from better overall health outcomes, increased productivity, and more people moving from public assistance to family supporting, gainful employment.
In his interview with Fresh Air co-host Dave Davies, Tankersley notes that, “…if you could reduce discrimination across the economy and invest in each other’s success, then we really could see this upward flow of talent and this boom of job creation and growth.”