One of the odd things about the United States has long been the immense range of people who consider themselves to be middle class – and are deluding themselves. Low-paid workers who would be considered poor by international standards, say with incomes below half the median, nonetheless consider themselves lower-middle-class; people with incomes four or five times the median consider themselves, at most, upper-middle-class.

But this may be changing. According to a new Pew survey, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people calling themselves lower class, and a somewhat smaller rise in the number calling themselves lower-middle, so that at this point the combined “lower” categories are close to a plurality of the population – in fact, closing in on, um, 47 percent.

This is, I believe, a very significant development. The politics of poverty since the 1970s have rested on the popular belief that the poor are Those People, not like us hard-working, real Americans. This belief has been out of touch with reality for decades – but only now does reality seem to be breaking in. But what it means is that conservatives who claim that character defects are the reason for poverty, and that poverty […]

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