RIP, the middle class: 1946-2013
I know I’m dating myself by writing this, but I remember the middle class.
I grew up in an automaking town in the 1970s, when it was still possible for a high school graduate -- or even a high school dropout -- to get a job on an assembly line and earn more money than a high school teacher.
“I had this student,” my history teacher once told me, “a real chucklehead. Just refused to study. Dropped out of school, a year or so later, he came back to see me. He pointed out the window at a brand-new Camaro and said, ‘That’s my car.’ Meanwhile, I was driving a beat-up station wagon. I think he was an electrician’s assistant or something. He handed light bulbs to an electrician.”
In our neighbors’ driveways, in their living rooms, in their backyards, I saw the evidence of prosperity distributed equally among the social classes: speedboats, Corvette Stingrays, waterbeds, snowmobiles, motorcycles, hunting rifles, RVs, CB radios. I’ve always believed that the ’70s are remembered as the Decade That Taste Forgot because they were a time when people without culture or education had the money to not only indulge their passions, but flaunt them in front of the entire nation. It was an era, to use the title of a 1975 sociological study of a Wisconsin tavern, of blue-collar aristocrats.