An Interview With Authors Donald Barlett and James Steele.
(Photo: Mike Hiatt / Flickr)The outsourcing of good jobs, the elimination of pensions, rampant home foreclosures; skyrocketing higher education costs and mounting debt: Given these stark realities, the American middle class seems to be sinking fast. The renowned reporting team of Donald Barlett and James Steele insists it is no accident.
Trade policy, tax cuts and other incentives that have been implemented in Washington since the Reagan era have allowed corporations to score record profits at the expense of the American workforce. Donald Barlett and James Steele, recipients of two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Magazine Awards, powerfully advanced this thesis in their 1992 bestseller, “America: What Went Wrong?”
Now, in a new book, “The Betrayal of the America Dream,” they return to the same topic to examine what has happened in the two decades since. Having first come across Barlett and Steele’s work in the early 1990s, when they were writing the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper series that ultimately became “America: What Went Wrong?”, I was excited to talk with the duo about the problems now facing our middle class – and about how we can pull ourselves from the abyss.
I started by mentioning their 1992 book and asking how things have changed for the middle class since then.
“Well, the easiest way to answer that question is it has been straight downhill,” Barlett responded. “If we made one mistake in that book, it was that we underestimated the speed with which the country would unravel – thanks in large part to the ruling class, which is having its way.” “When we wrote America: What Went Wrong?”, a lot of it was very controversial at the time,” Steele added. “We said wages were stagnating and going down, benefits were jeopardized or disappearing and our country was being divided into a nation of have-mores and have-lesses. We were accused of being alarmists. People just said, ‘This is a recession. Everything is going to be fine after that.’ We said, ‘Don’t believe it, because all of these forces are entrenched, and they’re going to make things increasingly worse for the middle class.’”