As we think about recent events at the end of 2014 and welcome in the New Year of 2015, I reflect on what we might be able to do on college campuses to alter (and hopefully improve) the trajectory of our society. I have written before about how our society has changed, particularly with regard to the loss of civility; concern about our future continues to plague my thoughts.
Recent and tragic events including the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the death by choke hold of Eric Garner in New York City could lead us to believe that a race war is on our horizon -- I believe the issue is a larger one. One thing is clear, tensions are running high.
I believe a class war is on the horizon. The middle class in the U.S. is disappearing. According to the Census Bureau in 1999, the median household income was $56,080. In 2012 it was $51,017, and today it has slipped by another $1,000 or so. The poverty rate for the U.S. is holding at approximately 14.5 percent or 45 million people. Meanwhile the nation's wealthiest people (about 10 percent) have seen their incomes increase by 14 percent since 1995.
In response to these income changes, our economy is becoming bimodal, that is, there is a growth in demand for high-end goods and services as well as bargain price goods and services. In Nelson Schwartz's article, "The Middle Class is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World," published by the New York Times, he interviewed John G. Maxwell (PricewaterhouseCoopers) who states: "In response to the upward shift in spending, PricewaterhouseCoopers clients like big stores and restaurants are chasing richer customers with a wider offering of high-end goods and services, or focusing on rock-bottom prices to attract the expanding ranks of penny-pinching consumers." Additionally he states: "As a retailer or restaurant chain, if you're not at the really high level or the low level, that's a tough place to be. You don't want to be stuck in the middle."
So what does this have to do with college campuses? College campuses have often been an incubator for social change; therefore, college's, like FM, must do all that we can to prepare people for the jobs of today and those of the future. That shrinking middle class will require an education if anyone is going to be a part of it. Nearly all data recorded on higher education shows that a college education improves income.
Equally as important is for colleges to discuss effective social and political change. We cannot accept the violence that has plagued our headlines as a means for social change. While such violence can spark change, too many innocent people become victims of such acts on our city streets and in our neighborhoods. These acts typically hurt the people whom they are trying to help by destroying property within low income areas.
Additionally, colleges can teach students to get involved in the political process; to use real data to influence policy change; to engage in civil discourse rather than violence; and, to be involved in their communities by thinking beyond themselves. Human history is replete with class warfare -- the poor often lose. Real social change takes place when the educated lead the way to a brighter future for all.