The University of Wisconsin welcomed former Wisconsin congressman Steve Gunderson as the selected speaker for a lecture Wednesday night where he gave his thoughts on the future of the middle class.
Gunderson addressed what he saw as the biggest threats to the middle class in the 21st century and offered possible solutions to these problems.
He emphasized the importance of education when looking at the wealth of the middle class. He said currently, unless a household is earning two incomes, both from people with Bachelor of Arts degrees, it does not comfortably exceed the modern minimum to be considered the middle class.
“The important reason to understand why education leads to wealth is to understand that education is defining wages in America today and wages have to be seen as the vehicle by which we create personal wealth and personal security,” Gunderson said.
He also stressed funding education is crucial to the middle class because education provides mobility and offers opportunities to gain entry into the middle class. He also said it is going to be nearly impossible to create a modern middle class if society makes it difficult to provide people with post-secondary educations.
Gunderson suggested to fund education, the state, as well as the country, should be looking to the private as well as the public sectors for financial assistance.
“It is up to us as a nation, whether we can come together across ideological polarization to allow the public and private sectors to make the contributions that will rebuild this vital part of American society,” Gunderson said.
In addition, Gunderson explained how the middle class is crucial to American democracy and the economy. He said the loss of the middle class would have detrimental effects on not only the economy but American democracy as well.
He described the middle class as the glue holding together American democracy and said no market-based democracy has survived without the existence of a healthy middle class.
“The loss of the middle class would matter because this broad cross section of citizens defines community and civic responsibility,” Gunderson said. “It matters because America can not be strong if the bulk of its citizens are struggling.”
Gunderson said while the middle class may be on the verge of vanishing, it is important to remain optimistic about the future. He said citizens are living in a different time that is vastly more diverse than when the middle class was created. However, he said if the nation can find new innovative ways to fund education, there is hope.
University of Wisconsin graduate Kara Kratowicz said she was impressed with what Gunderson’s lecture had to offer.
“I was particularly interested in coming here tonight because I worry about the middle class,” Kratowicz said. “It was interesting to hear what people who know more about the issue had to say about it.”
Gunderson’s lecture was based on his book, The New Middle Class: Creating Wages and Wealth in the 21st Century, which focuses on rebuilding a strong American middle class and is expected to be released early next year.