The Rise and Subsequent Downward Slide of the Middle Class in the United States Since 1938

by John M Repp

An economic historian looking at the USA over the past 70 years would be alarmed, assuming they wanted the American people to be healthy and happy. The two charts below tell much of the story.

In the first chart, the minimum wage kept pace with the rise in productivity from 1938 to 1968 as the left-hand half of the chart shows. That was the period when the great American middle-class came on the stage of history. After 1968 the productivity curve climbed ever higher but the minimum wage and the general wage level stagnated. This means there was a great increase in wealth creation, but the wage earners, which was most of the American population, were not receiving their fair share of that wealth. The workers were not getting raises commensurate with the wealth they were creating.

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