How Has the Prolonged Recession Affected the Middle Class? What Can Philanthropy do to Assist in the Economic Recovery?

At this morning’s plenary on the closing day of the 2012 Annual Conference, moderator Kai Ryssdal (host and senior editor, NPR’s Marketplace) facilitated an insightful panel discussion about America’s “vanishing” middle class and how philanthropy can help. Presenters Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink;  Jamie P. Merisotis, Lumina Foundation for Education;  and Don Peck, The Atlantic, discussed sobering trends:

  • The middle class has lost more of its wealth than any other group (mostly in housing values).
  • Recessions often lead to prolonged changes (permanent loss of traditional “middle skill” jobs).
  • The effects of being out of work for a prolonged period is as psychologically damaging to an individual as a divorce.
  • Post high school education attainment rates have not changed in 40 years.
  • The gap in wages between those with a high school education and those with advanced degrees (college and post-graduate) is growing.
  • Government’s capacity to invest in educational programs has reached its limit.

The changes we’re seeing now create a new definition of “normal.” How can philanthropy help?

  • Bring people and organizations together to discuss asset building (funding, political will) to create policy and infrastructure change.
  • Look at ways to improve our educational system, including delivering educational and technical skills in new and faster ways (shorter, more efficient programs).
  • Focus on education (including early education such as First 5 programs in California) and access to education.
  • Focus more on helping people feel economically secure by creating pathways for high school students

To learn more, read “The Pinched: How the Great Recession is Narrowing Our Future” by Don Peck and “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

Laurel Lee-Alexander is director of grant programs for the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.

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