CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ever since the Reagan-Bush administration in the 1980s, Republican policies systematically have undercut America's middle class and lavished lucrative rewards on the 1 percent elite at the top. That's the crux of a major new book, The Betrayal of the American Dream, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele.
"The outsourcing of good jobs, the elimination of pensions, rampant home foreclosures, skyrocketing higher education cost and mounting debt," one review summarized. "Trade policy, tax cuts and other incentives that have been implemented in Washington since the Reagan era have allowed corporations to score record profits at the expense of the American work force."
The authors' Web site says: "Congress allowed companies to kill 85,000 pension plans in the last generation. ... The rich went from paying 51 percent of their income in federal taxes in the 1950s to 16 percent in our time. ... Trade policies bought and paid for by major corporations have wiped out millions of good-paying jobs."
Two decades ago, Barlett and Steele outlined the start of middle-class decline in a landmark book, America: What Went Wrong? Their new book follows the sad trend into the 21st century.
In an interview, Barlett discussed the aftermath of the first book: "We underestimated the speed with which the country would unravel -- thanks in part to the ruling class, which is having its way." Steele added: "We said wages were stagnating and going down, benefits were jeopardized or disappearing, and our country was being divided into a nation of have-mores and have-lesses. We were accused of being alarmists."
Now their previous warnings have come true. Steele added:
"Forces that eroded so many blue-collar jobs are now well into the service economy. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics a couple of years ago estimated that basically 25 percent of the entire service work force, or roughly 30 million jobs, is in danger of being offshored and outsourced. That's a huge number."
A Los Angeles Times review noted that U.S. factory jobs peaked in 1979, then America's economy began cutting the throat of the middle class.
"The share that the wealthiest Americans paid in taxes began to fall sharply," the paper recounted. "American factory jobs soon began to flee south to Mexico, and then overseas to China, followed by all sorts of other tasks once performed by the guy next door. ...
"The real winner, Barlett and Steele say, is the American 'ruling class.' The plutocrats win just about every political fight. ... Tax cuts on unearned income and carried interest allow the richest of the rich -- including Mitt Romney, the authors point out -- to pay less income tax with each passing year."
Ironically, the book says, millions of less-educated U.S. blue-collar workers embrace the GOP which is destroying them. That conclusion seems to apply to West Virginia.
Part of America's middle-class decline stemmed from the computer revolution and the new Information Age, which eliminates routine jobs and heaps wealth on those with advanced knowledge. But it's shameful that conservative policies in Washington worsen the inequality.