The American Middle Class

American Middle Class pic

American Middle Class

A computer systems engineer who supported numerous distributed system and mainframe products, Amita Vadlamudi does volunteer work such as grocery shopping for the homebound and shelf reading at her local library. An avid reader, Amita Vadlamudi’s interests include a diversity of topics, ranging from environmental issues to American history.

American history is the history of the American people, the majority of whom are considered “middle class.” For the first hundred years of that history, though, there was no real middle class in the United States. Before the 19th century, economic classes in the country consisted of:
1) the wealthy
2) professionals, like doctors and lawyers, whose interests aligned closely with those of the wealthy
3) a relatively small merchant class composed of shopkeepers and artisans
4) farmers, who comprised the majority of Americans.

A host of social and societal changes can be traced to the 19th-century introduction of factories and retail stores, which employed scores of blue-collar and white-collar workers, many of them women who’d never before worked outside the home or earned money. Factory and office jobs, though, remained low-paying occupations, even for their salaried managers.

The credit for creating an affluent middle class in the United States is often given to Henry Ford, who in 1914 began paying workers in automobile assembly plants $5 for an eight-hour day of work. His objective in doing so was to attract and retain workers who were more reliable, because absenteeism was a significant problem that slowed production rates.

By paying more than double the prevailing factory wage of the day, Ford not only stabilized his workforce, but he also enabled his workers to buy the cars they were producing, thus significantly increasing the market for his product. Other employers were forced to follow suit if they wanted to retain their best workers. This phenomenon created the industrial-based middle class and a consumer economy that throughout the 20th century made the United States an economic powerhouse.


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