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Middle Class Americans Concerned about Economic Future

The U.S. stock market generally is soaring, unemployment is near record lows, and home ownership is at record highs. So, why do public opinion polls show Americans are worried about their economic standing? VOA's Ivana Kuhar has more on economic realities of middle class Americans:

The U.S. economy has been growing steadily for the past 66 months, creating seven and a half million new jobs and sending the stock market to record highs.

Yet, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows six out of ten Americans say the economy was better five years ago.

"If you look at the economic numbers, that simply isn't true,” says Desmond Lachman. “If you look at the job creation, income growth, if you look at the actual statistics, there's no question that the average Americans is a lot better off today than he was five years ago."

Desmond Lachman, of the American Enterprise Institute, says the rosy indicators show the American middle class is not shrinking -- but it is worried about job security and benefits, as the global economy changes the way Americans work. "We have a different economy today than we might have had 10, 15 years ago in a sense that there is a lot more technological change, a lot more competition from abroad, so I think there is a lot less security than we might have had ten or fifteen years ago."

Rea Hederman of the conservative Heritage Foundation says the American middle class is growing more and more prosperous. "We see that the amounts of families earning over $75,000 has doubled, we see that the amount of families earning less than $35,000 has shrank because these families have moved up the income scale. So, we see that families' income has increased rather dramatically."

But Federal Reserve Chairmen Ben Bernanke acknowledged recently that the middle-class income growth is not keeping up with the higher income bracket. In 2005, the average CEO of America's top 500 companies earned 262 times the pay of the average worker.

Hederman believes the growing income gap is not eroding the middle class living standard: "Everybody has benefited from the economic growth. I think the fact that everybody is better off, really should not put us into a competition of how much better off is somebody else. If everybody has a piece of a growing pie, than I think everybody is relatively happy."

But other experts disagree. Elisabeth Jacobs of the Brookings Institution says the middle class is not getting its slice of the American economic pie and, while household incomes have risen, Americans are working harder than ever in order to achieve those gains.

Hederman believes those gains are attainable through education. “With the marketplace being ever more competitive, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, education has really become a key to economic mobility. The American economy has transitioned from being manufacturing-based to becoming more of a knowledge economy. "

The transition to a global economy could be painful for some Americans as they lose their jobs to foreign outsourcing. Many experts say building a stronger safety net for 21st century U.S. workers will be high on the agenda in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.