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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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The Four E's--Pope Francis and the Middle Class

Uploaded: Jul 27, 2015
Pope Francis has dedicated his career to the plight of the poor and recently to the threats from climate change and global warming.

But last month in a news interview Pope Francis pledged to give more attention to the middle class throughout the world. The New York Times reported web link

"But flying back to Rome from his eight-day visit to Latin America, Francis admitted he had overlooked a group.
He has delivered few messages for the global middle class.
"Thank you," he replied, after a German journalist, Ludwig Ring-Eifel, asked about the omission. "It's a good correction, thanks. You are right. It's an error of mine not to think about this.""

This is an example where emphasizing one or two of the E's?in this case equity and environment?can lead us to overlook the importance of the other E's?economy and efficiency. Or in this case focusing on one group with economic challenges can lead us to overlook the transition in our economy that has put some middle class families at risk here and around the world.

The Pope's reminder is a good one for all of us.

In my professional work on the state workforce board and doing workforce studies, there is always great concern and many programs targeted at low income and at risk populations and we have great universities for highly talented people. But now with a changing economy and wage stagnation, many middle skill workers are struggling?a group that does not get much attention in the workforce world aside from apprenticeships.

In housing we have programs (usually with funding far below what is needed) to help low income families and usually consider that affluent families can find housing they can afford. But just as many in the middle class struggle for economic security, now many in the middle class in hot job centers around the country are finding it hard to afford to buy or rent.

California's environmental programs like AB 32 focus on the Pope's two main priorities?equity and environment. But our programs also take into account economic impacts and the law has provisions to prevent excess economic harm if the laws reduce the competitiveness of firms. And we use the funds from auctioning emission permits to fund housing and transportation focused on low income individuals and communities.

Our schools have programs for students with special challenges and for students who excel.
In all of these areas we tend to assume implicitly that middle class families will do okay and do not need special programs.

The Pope's message is a reminder not to overlook middle class challenges here and throughout the world.

Hopefully we can find ideas and programs that minimize the potential conflicts between each of the 4 E's.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jeff, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 27, 2015 at 8:24 pm


I think it is important to put some parameters in place. What is the current middle class income range in Palo Alto? EPA? San Jose? Within those ranges and those places the approaches could be quite different.

Posted by Stephen Levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 29, 2015 at 7:46 am

I have deleted two posts attacking the Pope and the Catholic Church.

If you want to write about the content of the blog and/or disagree with what I wrote, that is fine but this is not the place to discuss church policy.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 29, 2015 at 12:25 pm

You hit my nail on the head. Not many decades ago, Palo Alto was a solid middle class town with housing, retail, and services integrated into a community.

Since then the revered open marketplace priced our market-rate housing stock within the reach of only the upper financial brackets. Our BMR housing allocation policies accommodate an infinitesimal fraction of the less than middle class. In between is a conspicuous void.

Nobody has proposed a practical, affordable way to remedy it. Note those adjectives.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jul 30, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Mr. Levy, thank you for this column. Thank you also for deleting posts attacking the pope and the Catholic Church. As one with a lot of family members in various European countries, I've observed how the economic challenges since 2008 have affected them. It's been very eye-opening. This article is timely, and eye-opening as well: Web Link

Posted by questions, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Aug 3, 2015 at 2:25 pm

According to a quick google search, middle class in the san jose metro area is about $92,000 for a household, enabling that family to purchase a home for less than $480,000. Obviously, you have to go pretty far away or pretty low in square footage to buy (or rent) much on that income.

Landlords across our valley raised rents 11% on avg this year.

There will be no market based solutions to this problem.

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