How the Upper Middle Class Is Really Doing

Is it more similar to the top 1 percent or the working class?

Have upper-middle-class Americans been winners in the modern economy — or victims? That question has been the subject of a debate recently among economists, writers and others.

On one side are people who argue that the bourgeois professional class — essentially, households with incomes in the low-to-mid six figures but without major wealth — is not so different from the middle class and poor. All of these groups are grappling with slow-growing incomes, high medical costs, student debt and so on.

The only real winners in today’s economy are at the very top, according to this side of the debate. When Bernie Sanders talks about “the greed of billionaires” or Thomas Piketty writes about capital accumulation, they are making a version of this case.

.. “What do the upper middle class care most about in my district? They want a pluralistic America that is engaged with the world and embraces technology and future industries. What they don’t want is a backlash to diversity, a backlash to globalization, a backlash to technology.”

The upper middle class doesn’t deserve the blame for our economic problems. But it doesn’t deserve much government help, either.

Another Bad Idea for the Tax Conferees

A political drawback of the Republican tax bills is that they raise taxes on a significant number of voters by curbing the deduction for state and local taxes. A lot of these voters are in households that make between $100,000 and $500,000 in taxable income. About 40 million tax returns come from that group, and its members are disproportionately likely to face higher taxes as a result of Republican tax legislation.

Would Republicans make these households happier if they cut taxes more for households richer than they are?

The Top 20 Percent Are the Real ‘Hoarders’ of Wealth

Richard Reeves. In his new book, Dream Hoarders, Reeves argues that the upper middle class, or the top 20 percent, is “hoarding” the American Dream.

.. Reeves first points to unequal development of human capital.

By unequal development of human capital, Reeves is talking about parenting and education. Upper middle class parents are more likely to be married, and they’re more likely to plan their pregnancies. A study at the Columbia School of Social Work found that parenting behavior, namely maternal warmth and sensitivity, to be the most important factor of the gap between upper middle class children and bottom-income quintile children. In other words, parenting behavior is more important than maternal education, family size, and race.

Furthermore, upper middle class children generally live in neighborhoods with high-performing public schools, or they attend posh private schools. Upper middle class parents can hire college admissions consultants for upwards of $5,000 to guarantee that their children attend a selective college. Not to mention that most upper middle class parents have often gone through the college admissions process themselves and can help their children succeed.

.. In order to give all children the chance to succeed, Reeves suggest that we

  • curb exclusionary zoning, especially density requirements that prevent multi-family homes from being built in wealthy areas;
  • end legacy admissions at the top colleges in America that inevitably give preference to upper middle class children; and
  • open up internships by increasing regulatory oversight and extending student financial aid to cover summertime opportunities.

.. while Absolute mobility is concerned with whether incomes increase or decrease. Over time, everyone can be better off as the economy grows. Why do we need downward mobility from the top? If everyone’s standards of living are rising, why do we need to be concerned with class status?

..  “increasing the number of smart, poor kids making it to the top of the labor market is likely to mean an improvement in quality and therefore productivity.” Upper middle class people are top influencers in society; they are politicians, pundits, broadcast journalists, and financial analysts. These people should be the most talented people in society, not just the ones lucky enough to be born to rich parents because that is best for the economy. To give one of many examples, a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that fund managers from low-income backgrounds perform better than those from upper middle class backgrounds.

How We Are Ruining America

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

.. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.

.. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

.. zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009.

.. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

..  I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop.

.. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette.

.. the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

.. To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.