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People in this country still believe in the American Dream, but after one of the worst recessions this country has seen, many are fearful that they may be standing on a trapdoor instead of a ladder to success.

For as long I can remember, I have watched African-Americans create their own opportunities by working hard, getting an education and making smart decisions. But government also played a role. Investments in schools gave people a chance to get an education. Investments in infrastructure like roads and bridges, power grids and communications networks made it more profitable to create jobs. Investments in medical and scientific research provided the foundation for an innovative economy. We did it on our own and we did it together.

However, somewhere along the way, somebody lost the memo. The statistics are startling. They are young single mothers, married parents, high school and college graduates and ex-offenders. The stories they tell about being overworked and underpaid are not surprising. It is the story of America’s new normal. In the new normal, the share of the nation’s income channeled to corporate profits is higher than at any time since the 1920s, while the worker’s share languishes at its lowest since 1965.

Last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Wal-Mart, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined. The median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, 1% of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

I grew up in Detroit, where my ‘old man’ went to work for Chrysler in 1967 and made $168 dollars a week – that’s $608 dollars a week today, without overtime. By the time he retired, the average factory worker with 25 plus years of experience could make upwards of six figures, depending on the job. Then came the recession, which has redefined the middle class, especially the Black middle class. As the automobile industry faced collapse – so did the hopes of many, who had looked forward to graduating from high school, bypassing college and working in the factory.

In 2007, Chrysler was just one of the automobile companies that took advantage of a groundbreaking labor agreement with the United Automobile Workers union, to bring on new employees at an entry-level wage just under $16 an hour, compared with the $28 earned by longtime union workers. They redefined what was is and will be considered a good wage.

“Most Americans partake in the benefits offered by these new technologies, from smartphones to better dental care,” said Professor Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and an expert on technology and innovation who stepped down from President Obama’s Council on Economic Advisors last year. “Somehow this impressive progress has not translated into greater economic security for the American middle class.”

What middle class? In 2010, the Department of Commerce published a study about what it would take for different types of families to achieve the aspirations of the middle class — which it defined as a house, a car or two in the garage, a vacation now and then, decent health care and enough savings to retire and contribute to the children’s college education. It concluded that the middle class has become a much more exclusive club. Even two-earner families making almost $81,000 in 2008 — substantially more than the family median of about $60,000 reported by the Census — would have a much tougher time acquiring the attributes of the middle class than in 1990.

Throw in the cost of going to college, which has been rising faster than inflation and you’ve got problems. About two-thirds of people with bachelor’s degrees relied on loans to get through college, up from 45 percent two decades ago. Average student debt in 2011 was $23,300. And people work about as much as they did 25 years ago. Despite the grind, the net worth of the typical American family in the middle of the income distribution fell to $66,000 in 2010 — 6 percent less than in 1989 after inflation. In the new normal, the real wages of workers on the factory floor are lower than they were in the early ’70s. And the richest 10 percent of Americans get over half of the income America produces.

“Almost all of the benefits of growth since the trough of the Great Recession have been going to those in the upper classes,” said Timothy Smeeding, who heads the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. “Middle and lower-income families are getting a smaller slice of a smaller economic pie as labor markets have changed drastically during our recovery.”

This is what we have come to. We have to either define the middle class down a couple of notches or we acknowledge that the middle class isn’t in the middle anymore. And what about us – Black folks? That’s easy. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist, who is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a Writer, Editor and Communications Specialist. His work can be seen at Twitter: @zackburgess1