Richard Reeves book’ Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why Is That a Problem, and What to Do about It and his New York Times editorial (June 10, 2017) paint a picture of society where “American society is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top.”
He says that the upper 20% of U.S. society has it pretty good, and despite claims that people can be upwardly mobile, there are three ways the upper middle class has things rather closed.
Peter Temin in The Vanishing Middle Class seems to go a step farther. He seems to add intention to the equation. The upper middle class has set up a world for themselves and is not very interested in the well-being of the rest of society. He seems them as disinterested in investing in their education, health care, and opportunities. It becomes very difficult if, not impossible, to move upward.
Reeves says that there are three main reasons:
First, housing. There is a long history to housing. African Americans often point out that many white Americans made their biggest financial gains through the increase in value of their housing. For many white families this was housing which was partially financed by the federal government under programs initiated by Frank D. Roosevelt. African Americans were clearly excluded by FDR as a way of getting Southern support. While white Americans were able to get new homes financed with federal help, black Americans were redlined. Land and housing increased in value usually faster than money. (Cf. Peter Temin, The Vanishing Middle Class). Zoning laws limit the size, cost, and value of homes. Some people are kept out of certain areas.
Second, education. Public schools are organized by geography. The best public schools are located in the wealthiest school districts; even within the school districts, the schools in the wealthier areas always have the best resources. The top level colleges and universities usually have legacy admissions. Students of graduates have either an automatic admission or at least a better chance of getting in. Reeves points out that the United States is the only country in the world where that still happens. Because of admission standards and cost and legacy admissions, less wealthier students are less likely to get in to the top universities.
Third, internships and entrance to employment. Many jobs now require some kind of internship. Who knows whom is often the key as to where people get internships and opportunities for employment.
It reminds me of the words of Jesus to Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar: “Everything is fixed, and you can’t change it.” It may not be fixed, but it is very hard to break into the upper levels.