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January 13th, 2009
03:40 PM ET

The growing clout of the nouveau poor

Barbara Ehrenreich
The Nation

Ever on the lookout for the bright side of hard times, I am tempted to delete "class inequality" from my worry list. Less than a year ago, it was the one of the biggest economic threats on the horizon, with even hard-line conservative pundits grousing that wealth was flowing uphill at an alarming rate, leaving the middle class stuck with stagnating incomes while the new super-rich ascended to the heavens in their personal jets. Then the whole top-heavy structure of American capitalism began to totter, and–poof!–inequality all but vanished from the public discourse. A financial columnist in the Chicago Sun Times has just announced that the recession is a "great leveler," serving to "democratize[d] the agony," as we all tumble into "the Nouveau Poor..."

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Filed under: Economy
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. earle,florida

    Protectionism is good! Free Trade is bad,Period! Look at the revenue imbalance spreadsheets Import/Export, and the "eye-popping figures",illustrating/demonstrating that we've been," sucking pond water" for twenty years!

    January 14, 2009 at 10:05 am |
  2. Silvia Frank

    Extreme frustration should be on all of our minds !!!! Washington is soooo far removed from what we have left of the middle class (and haven't sent for a boat ride on the other side of the pond). If I hear one more time on the radio that the CORE of the PROBLEM is Forclosures (Mr. Barney Frank), I'm going to loose it (or maybe I'm there already). The core problem coming from a middle class citizen is JOBS !!!!!!!!!!!! DUH !!!!!!!!!!!! I'm sure if we were all gainfully employed, we wouldn't have a problem making our house payments. Hopefully, the new administration puts these clouded political viewpoints to rest. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to determine that earning gross amounts of profits on leveraged insurance meant to protect mortgages from defaulting wasn't a good idea.....just plain simple GREED which nobody can disagree with. The same greed that took all of our jobs overseas.......what the heck did they think would happen ??????? unless we want to live like the middle class in China, Korea, India, etc. why the heck did we think the playing ground was EVEN !!!!!!!! let's all say this out loud, Free Trade is Good, Unfair Trade is Disasterous ! look where it took us.......and now our greatest investor, China isn't even buying our gov't securities.......hum, maybe it's due time to make sure the USA is taken care of....let's focus on AMERICAN JOBS !!!!!!!!!!!!!! God Bless.

    January 14, 2009 at 9:10 am |
  3. Annie Kate

    The rich are still rich enough, despite their deprivations, to support a poor family or two. If they ever extended a helping hand to the poor and middle class I might feel for their losses, but since they don't I'm not overwrought about the things they will be missing now; at least they have food on their table and a roof over their heads. Some don't.

    January 13, 2009 at 6:45 pm |
  4. jim Fallbrook CA

    What Barbara Ehrenreich doesn't realize is the Poor and middle class really got the short end of the stick in Jimmy Carter's a Democrat administration. In his administration, mortgage rates were at 21% and unemployment was 14%. That sure didn't help the poor or middle class. In fact it helped the rich, they were making 16-18% on CD's. My question to her and Gene Pensynski: was Carter a better president than George W Bush? If either one of them could tell me he was, we both could have a good laugh I do agree with Barbara Ehrenreich that I have no sympathy for the rich investors who lost fortunes with Madoff. They should iknow the old saying "IF it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". Theuy lost their money through greed and they deserved it.

    January 13, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Edi

    Inequality vanished? I think not. I doubt that teachers in "nuveau poor" schools will every have to take food to work to feed their students or that their parents will ever have to call a social service agency to get someone to take their children because they can't feed them any more. Class doesn't just mean money, it means access.

    January 13, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  6. Bev C.

    Yes, we can blame the republicans, Bush, Cheney, etc. for the mess the country's in right now. I just hope Obama can straighten it out and that people allow him the time to do so, but I hear the flapping of Republican jaws down the road. . . . .

    January 13, 2009 at 5:04 pm |
  7. James in Nebraska

    Who let the political blog commenters in here?

    In defence of Cindy...just because one swings right, it does not mean they agree with everything the right does. I have read many of Cindy's posts and she is a pretty level headed right-winger (not using that in a bad sense). Which is something of an oddity here.

    One can not blame this whole thing on the right. There are so many factors that helped this collapse occur. People need to quite being so one sided and look at the big picture. Until then, this country can not progress.

    January 13, 2009 at 4:57 pm |
  8. Kojenwa...Boston

    A loss is a loss any way you cut it. It sucks all around.

    January 13, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  9. earle,florida

    I'm going to keep this short and to the point! #1) Nafta/Cafta/WTO,etc.,compounded by Globalization. #2)Illegal Immigration crossing the borders unmolested,sucking up every low-wage job in America,and to add a little flavor(salt to the wounds)sending manufacturing jobs south of the border with geographic bonuses to boot. #3) Multi-National Conglomerates based in United States sending every last morsel of decent (pay/compensation/fringe benefits)wage jobs overseas (utilizing slave labor, ie.wage disparity,etc.) leaving the country basically a"Service Sector Economy",snuffing out the middle class! PS. I'm glad this article was presented,and sorry my scathing comments had to be so forth-rigth,...Thanks

    January 13, 2009 at 4:13 pm |
  10. Faith

    We have always considered ourselves middle-class, but it is getting harder and harder to hold on to this "title". I have little patience with people who are worried about getting ironing done, or not being able to buy an extra house or piece of jewelry. It might be good for them to come back to reality for once. We feed people through our Vincent de Paul society at church, and we've seen such an increase of people just needing a decent meal, or some place warm to lay their heads, and you realize with an illness or lost job you could easily become one of the needy. So is there class warfare? Yes, when you keep hearing reports about these rediculus "poor rich people"!

    January 13, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  11. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    And this is the fault of ... what ? Cindy ... some 'mystical market force' ?

    It is YOUR Republican 'heros' that have caused this and their 'Let the Markets Control Themsleves' policies. Get a brain and soem knowledge for God's sake !!!!!!!!!!!! I'll bet you still think that Sarah Palin is still a great 'leader' .......LOL.

    January 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm |
  12. Cindy

    The poor and the middle class always get the short end of the stick no matter what. In these hard times now it is those people who will suffer the most. The wealthy may lose a lot in stocks or what ever but they still have mega bucks to fall back on. The rest of the people have nothing so when they lose one thing they lose it all. So really I feel no sympathy for these fat cats losing anything. Maybe they'll see how the rest of us live for once.

    Cindy...Ga.

    January 13, 2009 at 3:59 pm |