It’s been a long climb for many Americans, but finally the median American household has seen its income reach just over $59,000.

That’s not only the first time it topped 1999 in inflation-adjusted dollars. It’s also the second straight year of strong income gains. The median household earned 8.5% more in 2016 than in 2014, and that’s significant.

Many people who thought they fell out of the middle class during the Great Recession are now getting their feet back on the ground, finding full-time work and suddenly reimagining that they have a future. That’s a very different world from the series of part-time jobs, unemployment checks and making due by their wits that they thought might be permanent in 2010 and 2011.

The majority of financial advisors work with clients in higher income brackets, but many clients and advisors grew up in what was once the great American middle class. Some are old enough to remember when society wasn’t as stratified as it is today, when sons of mailmen and investment bankers went to the same schools together and enjoyed many of the same opportunities.

If you question that, just read Coming Apart by Charles Murray, the maligned social scientist who has been shouted down at college campuses this year. In his book, Murray recalls living in a middle-class neighborhood in an Iowa town only a few blocks away from Maytag’s CEO. That man’s Buick Electra was a little nicer and his house was a little bigger than those of the rest of the folks in the area, but neither stood out in the neighborhood.

Such a world today is a distant memory. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, opportunity was measured more in terms of personal and professional achievements with little connection to eight-figure net-worth statements. Society was far more cohesive.

Like many Americans, I was startled to hear the president talk about “American carnage” at his inauguration, but there was a ring of truth to the depressing metaphor. Few in the old steel towns of Ohio were taken aback, I suspect.
This country still needs more avenues of opportunity than are available today so mainstream Americans can enjoy reasonable levels of success. Hopefully, recent wage gains are a sign of better things to come.

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