When I was a kid, my family would mark the holiday season by driving to Oklahoma City to do our Christmas shopping.
We always made three stops. We would drop by the Sears store, which was a treat for me because it had escalators, and popcorn was always popping on the first floor. Popcorn and escalators! I was in heaven.
Our family would also visit Brown's Department Store, one of those old-fashioned multi-story affairs in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. Brown's had elevators--not escalators, and each floor was devoted to one or two retail sectors--menswear, womenswear, appliances, etc.
We usually had lunch at Beverly's restaurant on 23rd Street--one of a family-owned chain of eateries specializing in "Chicken in the Rough," which meant fried chicken in a basket of french fries, accompanied by delicious rolls that I could slather with butter and honey.
The Fosseys were a frugal family, and my parents drove a Chevrolet as an emblem of our sober lifestyle. If we ordered Chicken-in-the-Rough, my brother and I would split the plate. We each got one piece of chicken and a handful of fries.
I associate all those places with my family's dogged aspiration to be part of the middle-class. But Brown's Department Store is gone now, Sears is gone, and Beverly's is gone. And perhaps that is appropriate because the American middle class is fading away, just like the department stores and family-owned restaurants.
Jason Del Rey, writing for Vox, wrote that department stores and the middle class are dying together. According to one prediction, more than half of all mall-based department stores will close by the end of next year.
And the middle class is shrinking as well.
"Since the Great Depression began in late 2007," De Rey observed, "the vast majority of income growth in the US has gone to high-income households, squeezing middle-class households and altering the way they spend money." In a 2018 study, the Deloitte consulting firm reported that "the middle 40 percent of the country saw its income shrink in the previous decade, while $8 out f every $10 in income growth nationwide went to high-income households" (as reported by Del Rey).
If you considered yourself to be a middle-class person ten years ago, it is a good bet that you don't think of yourself as middle-class today. Our income doesn't go as far as it once did, and we no longer expect our incomes and lifestyles to improve.
Not only is the middle class seeing a decline in income, but it also sees a decline in its status. Middle-class people once lived in the Heartland. Now they live in flyover country. Middle-class people once took pride in their patriotism. Now the media elite label that patriotic instinct is as white nationalism.
And if America's middle class is dying--and it is--our nation's colleges and universities have their fingerprints on the dagger that stabbed it in the heart. Millions of American young people are taking out student loans in the naive hope that a college degree will improve their economic status, but they are being scammed.
The biggest rubes are the ones who get degrees in the soft majors--liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, ethnic studies, etc. After spending a lifetime in academic settings, I see now that degrees in these fields were always dubious. But at least history majors were forced to write essays and familiarize themselves with some of Western civilization's significant events.
Now, most students get As, and the professors are too lazy to read term papers. The broad themes of our American heritage have been repackaged into ethnic studies taught by card-carrying members of the cancel culture.
Tragically, young people are taking out student loans to pay for this gibberish. When they graduate, they are saddled with unpayable debt, and they can't get a job that pays a middle-class wage.
So if you are one of those people who went deep into debt for a degree in Inequality Studies and find yourself working at McDonald's, this is my advice. When your former professor shows up and orders a Big Mac--the one who taught you nothing useful--spit in his burger.
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