It seems the captains of industry, finally, are waking up to the economic pain that the American middle class has been feeling for years. Don’t be alarmed. This is not some sudden, newfound sense of benevolence, or concern for us as people. Rather, the cable TV industry’s become worried that, while we may still want our MTV, we just can’t afford it anymore.
Cable executives recently gathered at an industry event say their biggest competitive worry isn’t Netflix or some new Apple gadget, but just good old fashioned poverty. “There clearly is a growing underclass of people who clearly can’t afford it,” says Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt. “It would serve us well to worry about that group.” Britt’s underclass is us: you and me and the rest of the American middle class.
Our wages have been stagnant for so long that, faced with real choices like putting food on the table and putting gas in our tanks, something has to give. And, correctly, the choice we’re making is disconnecting our boob tubes. The real surprise is that it’s taken so long for corporate America to come to this realization.
The truth is that we Americans have been making choices to cut back spending for years now. Nor is cable TV the only business to feel the pinch. A recent poll found that half of all Americans are cutting back on products and services due to the high prices they’re paying to fill up at the gas pump alone. These consumers are spending less on everything from clothing, to entertainment, to groceries, and more. That means we’re putting a lot less money in a lot of corporate cash registers. All of this is a direct effect of the huge income inequality that’s become prevalent in the United States.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 1948 and 1979, a period of strong overall economic growth and productivity in the United States, the richest 10 percent of families accounted for 33 percent of average income growth, while the bottom 90 percent accounted for 67 percent. The overall distribution of income was stable for these three decades, and middle class consumers spent accordingly.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as As Goes Comcast, so Goes the Nation? on Blogcritics.