Monday, September 02, 2013
The Fading Ghost of the American Middle Class
I've posted different versions of this photo before (usually in color, but color now seems too pretty for the reality it depicts).What it means to me has changed over time, as has the figure in the window.
I took the photograph in 1981, at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution. It shows a window display at Tiffany's on New York's 5th Avenue. The display pivots on the irony that the two "bag ladies" seated on the park bench -- one poor, one rich -- are carrying bags from the same upscale 5th Avenue stores. At the time, the gap between rich and poor in America could still be symbolized by an empty space on a park bench. Today it's more like the Grand Canyon.
Back then, we still had a middle class. The woman reflected in the window seemed to be a middle class American, looking on in bemusement at the extremes of rich and poor from a vantage point in the reasonably comfortable middle. Today the middle class is a ghost of its former self. So many blue collar, white collar and professional jobs have gone away. No wonder the face in the window seems so faint and haunted.
If you see any politicians today getting in touch with the grassroots on Labor Day, shaking hands and kissing babies, you might want to ask them what they propose doing to restore the middle class. Ask them to be specific. You might even want to help them connect the dots by reminding them that one cruise missile costs $1 million. You can probably think of lots of ways to share with them that $1 million could help people in your community.