In his keynote speech Saturday morning at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, Sen. Al Franken noted the growing income disparity between the middle class and the rich, a trend that began in the late-1970s. The Minnesota Independent sat down with Sen. Franken to get some thoughts on that disparity and how the American middle class might once again benefit from economic growth.
Franken related a startling figure. “Between 1947 and 1977, we experienced three decades of incredible growth, growth that flowed to the middle class and as we grew, we grew together. Everyone benefited,” he said. “Income for the top fifth of Americans grew by 99 percent, and the income of those in the bottom fifth rose by 116 percent. I know that’s hard to believe. The wages of the bottom fifth grew more than the wages of the top fifth. Really. That happened.”
That trend has changed dramatically in the last 30 years.
As Mother Jones notes in its Plutocracy Watch feature, income grew 120 percent for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and 30 percent for the top fifth between 1979 and 2007. The bottom fifth, which had grown the most following World War II — by 116 percent — lost 30 percent of their income since 1979.
How does America get back to the middle class glory days between World War II and before the Reagan took office? Education is the key, Franken argues.
“We have to do a number of things one of which is educate our kids. And that’s why I’m so intent on making sure that the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is done right,” Franken said. “It’s one area where it is absolutely crucial that we do it right for our future prosperity.”