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Moving into and staying in the American middle class has become more challenging over time—but there's no single culprit. In this Perspective, the authors discuss a number of subtle but important changes over a relatively long period that have blocked many middle-class pathways. Less-educated workers face a smaller set of middle-income jobs. The good jobs that remain have increased educational requirements. The American labor market has been hollowed out. Those who are employed hold jobs that are less stable, provide fewer benefits, and may not lead to longer-term careers within a company. There is a lack of internal infrastructure to invest in workers, particularly those in roles most susceptible to automation. Consequently, sustained effort toward building new pathways will take many years. The authors conclude by providing a series of potential starting points.

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Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted within the RAND Lowy Family Middle-Class Pathways Center with RAND Education and Labor.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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