Michaud: American middle class is drowning

Political and civil efforts to help the middle

Political and civil efforts to help the middle class have grown nationwide. These delegates watch former President Bill Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 5, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (Credit: AP / Jae C. Hong)

The American middle class used to be the most affluent in the world, but now ranks behind Canada, according to a New York Times analysis of after-tax income data collected by LIS, a global income research organization.

And Western European countries, which used to trail far behind the United States in middle-class income, are now closing the gap. Catching up fast are Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden.

One reason? Education. In the last three decades, the rest of the industrialized world outpaced America in something called educational attainment -- the highest level of education an individual has completed.

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Americans 55 to 65 years old now have literacy, numeracy and technology skills that are above average, compared to the rest of the world. But, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, younger Americans are not keeping pace. The 16- to 24-year-olds rank behind their counterparts in Canada, Australia, Japan and Scandinavia.

That means that jobs are leaving the United States to find a better educated workforce elsewhere.

Everyone who opposes the new Common Core learning standards should think hard about what this means for our children's future. The introduction of those standards has been raucous, but we need to get behind them and push together -- fixing them where necessary -- to raise up learning in this country.

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