Presidential candidates work to appeal to middle class voters

Andrew Clark

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At the height of the 2008 Great Recession, filing for personal bankruptcy was prevalent among the middle class.

Personal bankruptcy has primarily been a middle class trend, despite their college education and house ownership, which are historic ways to build wealth, according to “The Vulnerable Middle Class: Bankruptcy and Class Status,” a 2009 study conducted by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren and Deborah Thorne, associate professor of sociology at Ohio University.

Four years later, the trend continues and the middle class is still struggling after experiencing the worst decade since World War II, according to an Aug. 22 study by the Pew Research Center called “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class.”

The middle class vote could play a big role in this year’s election, considering the majority of people believe they fall into this group, according to the ABC World News poll: The Middle Class conducted in 2010.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney outlined his plan for the middle class during his Aug. 30 acceptance speech, stressing energy, job training programs, cutting the deficit, strengthening trade abroad and helping small business owners reduce taxes and regulations.

“In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class. Family income has fallen by $4,000, but health insurance premiums are higher, food prices are higher, utility bills are higher, and gasoline prices have doubled,” Romney said.

Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan said he and Romney “have a plan for a stronger middle class with a goal of generating 12 million new jobs over the next four years,” during his nomination speech in Tampa.

President Obama has also ramped up talk of the middle class.

Obama wants to extend the middle class tax cuts that will expire this year, allowing 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses to not pay higher taxes next year, according to the Obama campaign.

However, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center claimed Romney’s tax plan would provide tax cuts for upper income households, but increase taxes for middle and lower income households.

According to Obama, economics do not trickle down.

During a campaign speech at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, he said, “It comes from students and workers and small business owners and a growing, thriving middle class. That’s who we’re fighting for.”

The Pew Research Center, however, recently found that the middle class has dwindled.

The center claimed the middle class has shrunk from 61 percent of adults in the 1970s to a slim 51 percent majority.  The Center also claimed the 2010 middle income median net worth was $40,000 less than what it was in 2001.

Dr. Linda Bradley, CSUN assistant professor of Family and Consumer Sciences said, “Research has shown that the middle-class has decreased for awhile. It isn’t a new phenomenon.  Decreasing net worth is a bigger issue.  Homes are people’s biggest asset and home values will take a long time to recover.”

Dr. Robert Krol, CSUN professor of economics, noted that research groups have differing descriptions of what is truly the middle class.

“One problem is there’s no one scientific definition of the middle class,” Krol said.  “One needs to take into account demographic data.”

At a White House event in July, President Obama defined the middle class as anyone making up to $250,000 a year. Mitt Romney has been much less definitive but did describe a dismal jobs growth that was reported in June as a “kick in the gut to middle class families.”  According to the Pew Research study, 49 percent of adults consider themselves middle class and a family of four would need an annual income of $70,000 to be middle class.

In the Pew report, 62 percent of the study participants blamed Congress for the state of the middle class while 54 percent blamed Wall Street.

The share of the blame and middle-income job seekers can ultimately determine the election.

Bradley explained that part of the decline has to do with the type of jobs available.

“There’s been a shift from industrial jobs to lesser-paying service sector jobs,” she said.

President Obama claimed his administration has made 4.5 million new jobs over four years and has had 29 consecutive months of job growth.  The administration claimed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had cut taxes for “95 percent of working families.”

But each candidate has shied away from specifics as to how to obtain middle class economic security.

Krol noted the economy can be unpredictable for whoever is in office.

“The economy is always changing,” Krol said.  “It’s important to generate more rapid economic growth.”