Economy's real problem? The spenders can't spend. - CSMonitor.com The earnings of the great American middle class fueled the great American expansion for three decades after World War II. Their relative lack of earnings in more recent years set us up for the great American bust. Starting around 1980, globalization and automation began exerting downward pressure on median wages. Employers began busting unions in order to make more profits. And increasingly deregulated financial markets began taking over the real economy. The result was slower wage growth for most households. Women surged into paid work in order to prop up family incomes – which helped for a time. But the median wage kept flattening, and then, after 2001, began to decline. Households tried to keep up by going deeply into debt, using the rising values of their homes as collateral. This also helped – for a time. But then the housing bubble popped. The Fed’s latest report shows how loud that pop was. Between 2007 and 2010 (the latest data available) American families’ median net worth fell almost 40 percent – down to levels last seen in 1992. The typical family’s wealth is their home, not their stock portfolio – and housing values have dropped by a third since 2006.