A PG special series: The Middle Class

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In this special five-week series, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Mark Roth takes an in-depth look at the challenges facing America's middle class.
Eric Chiado and his wife Kelly Knieling turned around their fortunes by following the advice of a Christian financial adviser.
In post-war America, the economy grew steadily, and the earnings of all income classes grew at roughly the same rate. It was possible to live a middle-class life on one income, and health and retirement benefits were often guaranteed by employers. Since then, the super-wealthy have grabbed a bigger share of the wealth, while middle-income earners' wages have increased only modestly, and hardly at all in the last decade.
NOV. 13-15
TWO PITTSBURGH-AREA families represent the range of incomes and problems found in today's middle class. And experts from around the nation weigh in on the economic trends that have reshaped middle-class life over the last six decades.
Ten years ago, Jackie Gorski and Tom Alberts remade their careers. What they didn't know was that health care issues would knock their lives way off track.
It wasn't that long ago, that Eric Chiado and his wife, Kelly Kneiling, were living paycheck to paycheck. Then they decided to listen to a Christian financial adviser.

• Chuck Collins is among the top 1% in wage earners, and he wants to pay more in taxes. He's not the only wealthy person who feels this way. ... read more »
• In a new study, Harvard University professor Michael Norton reveals some interesting facts about Americans and their views on wealth distribution. ... first, view the PG interactive and then read the article »

• The White House and politicians from both parties say they want to strengthen the middle class. But they have sharply different ideas on how to accomplish that. ... read more »
• Economic downturns, however painful, are inescapable and quite normal. In the past 120 years, the U.S. has seen 25 depressions and recessions. ... read more »

• Economists debate the role of labor and the effect it has had on the working class and whether it hurt employment and wages for all as companies packed up and moved to non-union states. ... read more »
• Bob Annan's life is a bit like Pittsburgh in the 1970s. A high school graduate, he earns a middle-class income, largely because he is in a union. ... read more »

NOV. 20
The Spencer family, of Shadyside, 1899.
WHERE DID the American middle class come from, and what does it mean to be middle class in the American psyche? Also, a look at Sinclair Lewis' "Babbitt," which may be the most acerbic novel ever written about middle America.
• The middle class first appeared in the 1820s and was reshaped by the rise of labor unions, the Great Depression, World War II and the GI Bill.
... read more »
• The Sinclair Lewis novel, "Babbitt," is thought to be the premier tale of the middle class. ... read more »
• A timeline of key historic events that occurred around economic boom-bust cycles. ... read more »

NOV. 27-28
MIDDLE-CLASS PEOPLE with identical incomes can be found on either side of the political divide. We look at some of those families and why they hold such different views. Also, a special look at the Massachusetts Senate race between Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
• Cousins Kris, left, and John Kovel typify the differences between Republicans and Democrats and how to achieve the American dream. ... read more »
• Democrats and Republicans have largely failed to show that they understand the problems of the middle class or know how to address the problems. ... read more »

• In Massachusetts, the battle for U.S. Senate is between two candidates who tout themselves as looking out for the middle class. ... read more »
• Massachusetts prided itself on having a robust safety net, but for a number of reasons that safety net is now in jeopardy. ... read more »

DEC. 4-5
THE LATEST RECESSION was driven by the boom in housing prices and their subsequent collapse starting in 2007. We take a look at Las Vegas, ground zero for the housing crisis, and how it has affected several families there, including Latinos. We also look at the special economic vulnerability of African-Americans, who still lag far behind whites in income and wealth.
• If you want to know why Las Vegas was the epicenter of America's housing boom and bust, visit the Mountain's Edge community at the southern end of Clark County. ... read more »
• Barbara Buckley realized early in 2009 that Las Vegas was entering a full-blown housing crisis. ... read more »
• In the broiling heat of summer, Armando Cortinas and his wife Beatrice were camped out in their backyard after being locked out of their home when their lender filed an eviction action. ... read more »

• With most Americans' wealth concentrated in home equity, a steep drop in value adds pain to a historic pattern in black neighborhoods. ... read more »
• For a country that fell into a recession primarily because of a collapse in the housing market, the two experts say, America has done a lousy job of coming up with a plan to revitalize home ownership. ... read more »

DEC. 11
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE hold for middle-class prosperity, and what are some of the most interesting ideas for how to address such long-term problems as retirement, health care, housing and education?
• There are many good ideas out there for addressing some of the major problems facing America, from taxes to government spending to higher education bills to health care costs. ... read more »
• Like evenly matched sumo wrestlers, the Republican Congress and the Obama White House have argued endlessly over taxing the wealthy, without ever moving off dead center. ... read more »
» Wealth distribution
How much of the nation's wealth is held by the top wage earners?

» In your living room
What you own is an indicator of your social class

» Poll: Federal spending
Middle class issues and the government's role

» Tax brackets
How they've fluctuated
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