Is the US middle class thriving, or struggling to make ends meet?

Although I am not a big Lou Dobbs fan, Donald Boudreaux's Jan. 4 Opinion piece, "Middle class woes? A letter to Lou Dobbs," deserves a rebuttal. Mr. Boudreaux says that homeownership among Americans is at a record high and that this is firm evidence that middle-class Americans are better off. But the homeownership increases over the past several years are largely because many banks now accept down payments of as little as 5 percent or less, rather than requiring 20 percent down payments, to issue home loans.

Moreover, US savings rates have dropped below 0 percent. And worker pay has deteriorated. Real wages have fluctuated since 1973, but they have never come back up to the level reached in 1973.

Boudreaux also says that the supposed rise in family income is not due to more women working. But a 2005 report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percentage of women in the labor force rose from 43 percent to 59 percent between 1970 and 2004. The report also points out that women's earnings (as a percentage of men's) increased during that time. Thus American families are more dependent than ever on the income that a second parent earns.

And although Boudreaux says that foreigners must have great faith in the US economy to hold so many US dollars, it seems that foreigners are fed up with holding dollars, since many are trading them for other currencies, such as the euro and yen.
Mark Gilkey
Mountain View, Calif.

In his Jan. 4 Opinion piece, it appears that Donald Boudreaux is scolding Lou Dobbs for Mr. Dobbs's antipathy toward free trade. Mr. Boudreaux has it right.

If every dollar US folks spend on imports is returned in reciprocal exchanges, then we profit for having utilized the most efficient procedure for dividing our labors.

To the degree that dollars spent on imports do not return to the US, then we have gotten putatively useful goods and/or services for pure paper. How can one beat a bargain like that?
Andrew Burns
Danbury, Conn.

Partition Iraq

Regarding the Jan. 5 article, "If Iraq fragments, what's Plan B?": Why not support a partition of Iraq into three separate states? That was the solution in the Balkans in the 1990s. The current stalemate in Iraq is costing American lives and taking a terrible toll on Iraqi civilians.

Kurds have already proved their ability to self-govern. (The Turks won't like it, but partition is an acceptable solution.) The Sunnis and Shiites could govern themselves as well. Partition of Iraq would give the opportunity for Sunnis, the majority of whom are probably not Islamic militants, to form a stable, possibly democratic government of their own. The continued mess only serves Islamic militants, who are able to successfully co-opt groups of Sunnis and Shiites who are probably not militant ordinarily, but who fight the unpopular occupation and the majority- Shiite government.

Making this move now may be the only opportunity for the formation of a Shiite state that is not a client state of Iran. If the civil war continues, Iranians could become more and more a force as they support Shiite militants with arms and money.

Take away the reason for civil strife, and the militants are more likely to lose their leverage with the Iraqi people. An international group can supervise the peace, and American men and women need no longer face danger and death in this stalemate.
Alan Johnson
Missoula, Mont.

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