Explaining Southern California's economy

Is the American middle class being crushed — or redefined?

As the economic downturn grinds on, with really pitiful GDP growth and really high unemployment — it's 12.4 percent in L.A. county — a debate about whether the vaunted American middle class is being obliterated has gained momentum. Elizabeth Warren, now running for Senate in Massachusetts, has been hammering on this for years. So have many other left-leaning and progressive economists. Others are asking questions. Stephen Rose points out that the problem with the middle class is that there's a structural shift in the work that's available to less-educated men.

KPCC's Patt Morrison Show recently took a look at the situation, indirectly, with a segment on the "New Normal" in the economy and so-called "two tier" wage structures that have been adopted in unionized industries, most prominently the car business. UCLA's David Lewin said that the two-tier gambit, in which new workers are hired at lower wages or with less lavish benefits that older workers, can be used to establish the lower tier as the only tier, as older workers are phased out.

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