This recession will probably have its own social profile. In particular, it’s likely to produce a new social group: the formerly middle class. These are people who achieved middle-class status at the tail end of the long boom, and then lost it. To them, the gap between where they are and where they used to be will seem wide and daunting.Yes, in David Brooks' formulation, we are a nation of people who became middle class sometime in the 1990s, and have now lost it all, in the last month or so, spiraling back to poverty. We're not so much a nation that became middle class during the big government industrial economy days of the post-war period, and one that then saw its middle class squeezed to the margins as the Reagan years ushered in the greatest disparity of wealth since the Gilded Age. You forgot about the greatness of our service economy and the fantastic prosperity retail jobs brought to everyone!
In the months ahead, the members of the formerly middle class will suffer career reversals. Paco Underhill, the retailing expert, tells me that 20 percent of the mall storefronts could soon be empty. That fact alone means that thousands of service-economy workers will experience the self-doubt that goes with unemployment.It's sure gonna suck to lose the job security, benefits, and legendary social safety net of the service economy, right? It is remarkable that a man can write a column that is basically spot-on, if also 20 years out of date, on "the big picture" (hello, Fear of Falling fans!) while being so obstinately, intentionally incorrect in every detail. No, wait, "remarkable" is the wrong word, because it is a David Brooks column, and that is exactly what he does, professionally. (See also the last time we caught him doing this, here.) R.I.P. the middle class, we're sure the conservative intellectuals will have some great ideas for how to help you guys out come 2012. Maybe you'll need tax cuts?