Clinging to the American Dream in Middletown, Ohio

Middle-class Americans like the Shores have seen their wealth drop 28% in a decade; Would either candidate's tax plan help?
CBS News

(CBS News) MIDDLETOWN, Ohio - Both Mitt Romney and President Obama are courting middle-class voters -- many of whom fear the dream of a better life for their children is slipping away. In a CBS News poll, 39 percent of voters told us they are worse off than they were four years ago. So how would the candidates' tax policies affect the middle class?

In Middletown, Ohio, Deanna and Terry Shores consider themselves and their two boys a typical middle-class family. Deanna teaches English at Miami University, Terry teaches middle school, and both have masters' degrees.

"We're middle class," said Deanna. "We're a two-professional home. We thought it would look a certain way and be a certain way."

Asked if she feels like the middle class gets lost in the middle, Deanna responded: "We just kind of get looked at as, 'Well, they're doing okay.' And we're not. We're struggling to maintain the notion of America."

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On the streets of Middletown, the signs of that economic struggle are everywhere.

Back in 1957, Look magazine gave Middletown its "All-America City" award. But a lot has changed: Half a century later, Forbes magazine named it one of America's fastest dying towns.

As businesses have left, the poverty rate has soared here. And the American dream feels more elusive for families like the Shores.

My grandfather built engines for GE," said Deanna. "He created a very nice life for my mother."

She still believes in the American Dream. "And I want it. And I work really hard to have a little piece of it." But she acknowledged that she would have to reach farther for it now.

In fact, middle-class Americans saw their median wealth decline by 28 percent in the decade ending in 2010. Both presidential candidates are promising help.

"I will not raise taxes on middle-income Americans," Mitt Romney had said.The GOP candidate is proposing cuts in each of the six tax rates. Middle-class taxpayers would see their taxes drop by about 2 percent. Americans earning more $215,000 would see their taxes cut by 6 percent or more.

"Let's put the middle class back in the forefront," President Obama once said. He would leave current tax rates virtually unchanged for 98 percent of Americans, while raising taxes on top earners by up top 6 percent. That's for individuals making $200,000 or more, and families earning $250,000 and up.

"With the wealthy," said Deanna," they have all kinds of ways to hide their money. "The middle class -- we have to scuffle to keep it all solid."

Deanna now has another child on the way. Terry took a pay cut in the recession. But they still have faith.

"Dreams are sometimes hard to break," said Deanna. "If that's been implanted and imparted to you, it's hard to let go."

The Shores may have lost some income. What they haven't lost is hope.

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"