The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity is convening an event for two books on October 26, 2017: a forthcoming Roosevelt Institute book being published by the Cambridge University Press, The Hidden Rules of Race, and Richard Reeves’ Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It. The event pairs two books together in a national environment where so much attention is being drawn to the “white working class.”
Why do black families own less than white families? Why does school segregation persist decades after Brown v. Board of Education? Why is it harder for black adults to vote than for white adults? Will addressing economic inequality solve racial and gender inequality as well? This book answers all of these questions and more by revealing the hidden rules of race that create barriers to inclusion today. While many Americans are familiar with the histories of slavery and Jim Crow, we often don't understand how the rules of those eras undergird today's economy, reproducing the same racial inequities 150 years after the end of slavery and 50 years after the banning of Jim Crow segregation laws. This book shows how the fight for racial equity has been one of progress and retrenchment, a constant push and pull for inclusion over exclusion. By understanding how our economic and racial rules work together, we can write better rules to finally address inequality in America.
It’s now conventional wisdom to focus on the excesses of the top 1% — especially the top 0.01% — and how the ultra-rich are hoarding income and wealth while incomes for most other Americans are stagnant. But the more important, and widening, gap in American society is between the upper middle class and everyone else.
Reeves defines the upper middle class as those whose incomes are in the top 20 percent of American society. Income isn’t the only way to measure a society, but in a market economy it is crucial because access to money generally determines who gets the best quality education, housing, health care, and other necessary goods and services.
As Reeves shows, the growing separation between the upper middle class and everyone else can be seen in family structure, neighborhoods, attitudes, and lifestyle. Those at the top of the income ladder are becoming more effective at passing on their status to their children, reducing overall social mobility. The result is a fracturing of American society along class lines, not just an economic divide. Upper-middle-class children become upper-middle-class adults.
These trends matter because the separation and perpetuation of the upper middle class corrode prospects for more progressive approaches to policy. Various forms of “opportunity hoarding” among the upper middle class make it harder for others to rise up to the top rung. Examples include zoning laws and schooling, occupational licensing, college application procedures, and the allocation of internships. Upper middle class opportunity hoarding, Reeves argues, results in a less competitive economy as well as a less open society.