This notion of American opportunity has ebbed and flowed, but generally gained ground well into the 1960s and 1970s. The very fact that the United States was more demographically dynamic, notes Thomas Piketty, naturally reduced the role of inherited wealth compared to Europe, most notably in France, where population growth was slower. Mass prosperity hit a high point in America in the first decades after the Second World War, the period where the country achieved its highest share of world GDP at some forty percent. By the mid-1950s the percentage of households earning middle incomes doubled to 60 percent compared with the boom years of the 1920s. By 1962 over 60 percent of Americans owned their own homes; the increase in homeownership, notes Stephanie Coontz, between 1946 and 1956 was greater than that achieved in the preceding century and a half.Earlier this summer, I used Kotkin's work to explore the risks of a potential neofeudalism.
But today, after decades of expanding property ownership, the middle orders—what might be seen as the inheritors of Jefferson’s yeoman class—now appear in a secular retreat. Homeownership, which peaked in 2002 at nearly 70 percent, has dropped, according to the U.S. Census, to 65 percent in 2013, the lowest in almost two decade. Although some of this may be seen as a correction for the abuses of the housing bubble, rising costs, stagnant incomes and a drop off of younger first time buyers suggest that ownership may continue to fall in years ahead.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Over at the Daily Beast, Joel Kotkin posts an excerpt from his forthcoming book, The New Class Conflict. Kotkin argues that the hollowing out of the middle class has deep cultural and political implications:
Posted by Fred Bauer at 10:15 PM