Four experts debate what’s next for America

The American middle class has been slowly thinning for years, but the Great Recession is accelerating that process. Median incomes are declining and the housing market has collapsed. The consumer recovery, such as it is, appears to be driven by the affluent, not the masses. While the rich and well-educated are putting the recession behind them, the rest of America is stuck in neutral or reverse.

To assess the widening divide between the super-rich and everyone else, we invited cover story writer Don Peck and three other experts – James Fallows, Maria Kefalas, Tyler Cowen – to discuss the state of the economy and the problems facing the middle class.

ROUND 3: Can We Even Fix the Problem?

James Fallows

Reasons to Doubt the Middle Class Can Be Saved

Short of a major breakthrough or crisis, the country's economic makeup is unlikely to change

Tyler Cowen

Remember, America's Poor Are Richer Than Most of the World

There may be ways to help the middle class without huge economic changes

Maria Kefalas

We Need to Change How We Talk About the Middle Class Crisis

How can the problem be solved if people don't even agree what's wrong?

Don Peck

The Middle Class Is Mostly Invisible to the Elite

It's not that the elite doesn't care about the rest of the country--it may not even think about it

ROUND 2: Is America Getting Less Mobile?

James Fallows

Is America Hardwired for Widening Inequality?

Why the country may not be suited to save the middle class as we know it

Tyler Cowen

Decades of Low Crime Show Society Is Resilient to Decay

If the middle class is falling apart and getting poorer, why hasn't society become more lawless?

Maria Kefalas

America Needs More College Alternatives

The country's middle class has stagnated—but it can be revitalized

Don Peck

The Recession Is Making It Harder to Get Into the Middle Class

The economy is experiencing a downward spiral that's pushing people out of the middle and down the income ladder

ROUND 1: How Serious Is the Crisis?

James Fallows

America Suffers When People Quit Moving Up

Upward mobility has drawn immigrants to the U.S. for hundreds of years, but today it doesn't seem to be guaranteed even for those born in America

Maria Kefalas

Ditch American Optimism: We Need to Get Angry About the Economy

Resiliency to adversity is great, but not indifference to the decline of the country's middle class

Tyler Cowen

A Worried, Uncertain Country—but Not a Miserable One

A bad economy doesn't ruin all of a person's life

Don Peck

Is the Middle Class Really Doomed?

The beginning of the debate about the future of the middle class

Panelists

  • Don Peck Don Peck
    Features editor at The Atlantic and author of Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures & What We Can Do About it
  • James Fallows James Fallows
    National correspondent for The Atlantic
  • Tyler Cowen Tyler Cowen
    Economics professor at George Mason University and author of The Great Stagnation
  • Maria Kefalas Maria Kefalas
    Sociology professor at Saint Joseph’s University and co-author of Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

The Biggest Story in Photos

Squatters in Venezuela's 45-Story 'Tower of David'