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The American middle class is in distress. Here's what that means to the world's largest economy, and the rest of planet earth.

BOSTON — The decline of America's middle class is the biggest story in the world's largest economy. But the story doesn't end there. Over roughly the same period as the middle-class decline in the US, huge numbers in the developing world have enjoyed substantial increases in their standards of living — notably in China and India, as well as in other countries in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. How is this complex trend 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, and for those aspiring to middle-class status around the world? These thorny questions and more are the focus of a 10-month GlobalPost investigation, America the Gutted.

After losing ground for four decades, middle America increasingly looks doomed. Here's how it happened.
North carolina1
The Tar Heel State has been the hardest hit by factory outsourcing.
Bobble head
Almost everyone seems to be in it, no one can define it — but the middle class is the central theme of the presidential campaign.
The new victims of US outsourcing? Asians who once took Americans' jobs.