Ties that Bind

How a Strong Middle Class Supports Strong Public Infrastructure

Read the entire brief (CAP Action)

The dire state of America’s infrastructure is an all-too-familiar story. From dramatic cases of bridges collapsing and levees breaking to the more mundane but still very important problems of commutes lengthening, energy grids deteriorating, and transit becoming less reliable, we have not been making adequate investments in our nation’s infrastructure. This is the case despite abundant evidence of the needs and the benefits: Infrastructure investments boost productivity and spur economic growth, which is ever more important as other countries are making investments to pass us by.

So why has the United States neglected infrastructure investment?

There are certainly many causes, but one factor that has not received adequate attention is the decline of our middle class. When the middle class is strong, their interests—such as for greater investments in infrastructure—are more likely to be translated into political action. But when society is very unequal, the priorities of the rich tend to dominate.

Indeed, over the past several decades, America has become less of a middle-class society, with the share of income going to the middle class—defined as the middle 60 percent of the population—falling to just 46.5 percent in 2010 from 52.3 percent in 1967 as the wealthy have captured most of the economy’s gains. The top 1 percent has seen their share of income increase to 19.8 percent from 11.2 percent over the same time period.

Read the entire brief (CAP Action)