Squeezed middle class not on Bush's priority list

ATLANTA — ATLANTA - By now, Karl Rove and his minions had expected that improved jobs reports would have boosted the president's election prospects immeasurably. After all, the stock market is doing just fine and corporate profits are going gangbusters. How come so many workers are still worried?

Well, most workers don't get to share the bounty of those corporate profits. Even with the popularity of 401(k)s, which are replacing traditional pensions, only about half of all Americans own stock. The average American is still feeling what John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, call the "middle-class squeeze."


Already, jobs growth, which picked up in March, has begun to slow considerably. The report from June showed a disappointing 112,000 new jobs, fewer than necessary to keep pace with population growth. Even more telling is this: When President Bush came into office, 64.4 percent of all American adults were working. That figure has now dropped to 62.3.

For those who are working, hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, have declined slightly over the last year. And many of the manufacturing jobs that boosted generations of Americans into the middle class are probably gone forever - lost to computers and Chinese workers.


Add to that soaring health care costs. Workers are having to pay more of their insurance costs, reducing their take-home pay. Or they are stuck with jobs that provide no health insurance.

As if that were not enough, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan recently raised interest rates and is expected to keep raising them for the next several months. As he does, many average Americans will find it harder to pay off their monthly credit card bills or get a mortgage. During the recession, they had used those credit cards to keep up their standard of living (and buy the nation out of that recession). Many families now have substantial credit card debt.

Mr. Bush is not responsible for the global tidal wave that has swamped U.S. manufacturing or the credit card debt that threatens to bankrupt many families. The president didn't create an out-of-control health care system or push down hourly wages. But his natural affinity for the wealthy and well-connected has produced policies that are much more in tune with their interests than with those of average working folk.

According to the U.S. Census, yearly median family income is $51,407. In terms of income distribution, the largest group of American families - nearly 21 percent - earns between $50,000 and $75,000 a year. Nearly 16 percent of American families live off incomes between $35,000 and $50,000 annually. That paints a picture of a substantial midsection - nearly 37 percent of families - with incomes between $35,000 and $75,000 a year.

Now take a look at the distribution of the Bush tax cuts. The American families earning between $43,000 and $76,000 have received only a 17 percent share of the tax cuts, according to an analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. By contrast, the top 1 percent of income-earners has received a 24.2 percent share.

I know, I know. Those wealthy Americans paid more of the taxes, so they deserve more of the tax cut, right? Actually, they got more than they deserved, even by that measure. And they haven't used their tax cuts to produce substantial numbers of good-paying jobs for Americans. Wealthy investors are concerned only about increasing their profits. If replacing factory workers with robotic arms does that, they gladly install the robotic arms.

Much of the economy is beyond the control of any president. But shoring up the general welfare is not. Mr. Bush had a responsibility to expand the social safety net - extend unemployment benefits, create access to health care - for those Americans who are falling further behind, despite their best efforts.

Instead, the president has coddled the wealthy.


Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.