Commuters travel in the subway of Shenzhen. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG — Over the last decade, as America’s middle class has been squeezed and shrunk, millions of Chinese have risen from poverty, creating a new — if still hazily emerging — middle class in the Middle Kingdom. They are beneficiaries of the trends that have gutted America's economy. Now, much of the world’s hope for future growth rests on the development of them as consumers.
So who are these new members of the not-quite-poor, not-quite-rich? In some ways, they resemble their American counterparts, but the differences are notable. Below, a brief sketch of this all-important group.
Size and Income
Average incomes in China are still a fraction of what they are in the US, so anyone making from $6,000 to $15,000 a year is generally considered to be in the middle. In China, that amounts to 350 million households — a figure that continues to surge. Since 2000, the amount of disposable income available to urban households has more than quadrupled.
Think city-dwelling lawyers, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, real-estate managers and salesmen. In her book, "The Chinese Dream," Helen H. Wang defines this group as “urban professionals and entrepreneurs from all walks of life, who have college degrees.” Besides income, one Chinese scholar argues that to truly belong to the middle class, Chinese people must be managers, business owners or technians.
IT services – which includes not only application development and maintenance but also testing, infrastructure management and system integration, and all the other stuff you think of your in-house IT guy as doing – grew 19 percent this fiscal year to account for exports of $40 billion, according to Nasscom.
Engineering design and research and development — the stuff you think your in-house engineers are doing — grew 14 percent to generate export revenues of $10 billion, thanks to a decline in the number of people with the necessary skills in the US and Europe.
India and the Philippines are among the countries which have benefited the most from US outsourcing. (Jes Aznar/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, India — The outsourcing of work to India and a handful of other countries is the most talked about loss of American jobs since Japan took over the auto industry in the 1980s. But how many, and what kind of jobs is it really costing US workers?
Both the Obama and the Romney campaign have tried to make outsourcing an election issue, demonizing Indian workers and promoting a kind of xenophobia that would be universally decried if it were directed at actual immigrants.
Democratic presidential candidate, US President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Tom Pennington/AFP/Getty Images)
BOSTON — Think Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney would like some middle class votes come November?
What about President Barack Obama?
Swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and others are full of these key voters, of course.
Each place is thick with former manufacturing and other middle class workers, many of whom have struggled mightily over the past decade, to say nothing of the past four difficult years.
BOSTON — There is a deep unease spreading across the United States.
As anyone who's living through it can tell you, America's middle class — the backbone of the world's largest economy — is in distress.
The numbers tell the story:
Median family income in America peaked in the year 2000. Since then it is down some 6 percent, the worst 12-year stretch for the middle class since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile many of the jobs that once employed this group have moved overseas or have been replaced by new technologies, a big problem for one subset of the middle class: the 5 million out-of-work Americans who the Labor Department calls the "long-term unemployed."
In short, America's middle class is being gutted by a variety of complex and interrelated factors, and this economic pain is increasingly evident to those at the center of it.
According to an August survey by the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of middle class Americans say it is more difficult today to maintain their standard of living than it was 10 years ago.
This seismic shift is decades in the making and transcends Democratic and Republican parties and politics. It was exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2008, which decimated the US job and housing markets, a key source of middle class income and wealth.
The implications are profound and troubling.
As this middle hollows out, millions have fewer financial resources for their families, and less spending power to help fuel the consumer-based US economy.
Millions more are losing hope that their country can provide good jobs now or in the future.
Many are questioning the very ideals of America, and what the country's historic opportunity once represented to the rest of the world.
But America's problems are not the whole story.
Over roughly the same period as the middle class decline in the US, huge numbers in the developing world have enjoyed big increases in their standards of living — notably in China and India, as well as other countries in Asia, Latin America and beyond.
While the Great Recession has challenged some of these high-flying places, the long-term trend is clear: more people around the world are expected to ascend into the middle class.
What does this complex trend mean for people around the world? How is it playing out in shuttered factory towns across America? How is it changing lives — for good and sometimes ill — in the emerging boomtowns of the developing world? What is the future for the middle class in the US?
These questions and more are the focus of a 10-month GlobalPost investigation, America the Gutted.
In this worldwide reporting project, GlobalPost's award-winning team of journalists will tell the stories of American middle-class workers who have lost their jobs across a number of industries, and who are today struggling to make ends meet.
On the flip side, we'll also profile workers around the world who now own the jobs once held by America's faltering middle class — in China, India, the Philippines and elsewhere.
It's our goal to humanize this global economic shift by telling real stories of real people — across text, video and photography.
Along the way, we'll be using this America the Gutted blog to tease out some of the project's larger themes and original reporting. We'll also point to related news stories from around the world and, yes, on the US presidential campaign trail, where a sharp debate over America's economy could define the election.
Then, in early October, we'll launch the full America the Gutted reporting project on GlobalPost.
We hope you'll join us.
And please feel free to offer your own stories and thoughts in the comment section below. This global trend concerns all of us, no matter where you happen to live.