Jim Sullivan of Notre Dame and and Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago just gave a terrific presentation about what has happened to the material well-being of the poor and middle class in the United States over the last three decades. Contrary to much received wisdom, the poor and middle class are significantly better off today. This slide is but one example from their presentation.
You can see the whole presentation here (Gary Burtless of Brookings made several excellent points in the discussion).
Of course, things have not been great for the past several years, but it is hard to argue that living standards haven’t improved over the last 30 years. It would be great to see a debate between, say, Pikkety and Saez on one side and Meyer and Sullivan on the other about what’s happened to the American middle class over time.