How one American city is working to keep the middle class alive and thriving

WorkingNation and Lumina Foundation present our new digital magazine—The Middle: Indianapolis

Originally published May 4, 2021.

Today’s American workers face a much different world than their parents and grandparents did. Technological evolution, global competition, and now the COVID-19 pandemic are changing the way we work and the skills needed to get a good job.

Without those skills—and a clear path to getting them—the middle class could be out of reach for this and future generations of workers.

So, what does it take to put the middle class back on track and thriving? WorkingNation and Lumina Foundation take an in-depth look at that question in our new Inquire Within digital magazine—The Middle: Indianapolis

Jamie Merisotis (Photo: Lumina Foundation)

“The issue of middle-class survival could not be more timely,” says Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “The pandemic cost millions of people across the country their jobs and pushed them further away from attaining the middle-class American Dream. Fortunately, community leaders are building middle-class pathways.”

Through this examination of the changes and solutions underway in one representative American city—Indianapolis—we get a sense of what is possible in cities around the nation.

Melissa Panzer (Photo: WorkingNation)

“WorkingNation spent four years researching, reporting, interviewing, and shooting in Indianapolis,” explains Melissa Panzer, our executive producer of video content development and production.

“We spoke with community leaders working toward middle-class survival, but took special care to get into the communities themselves, where we found real stories about real people and saw firsthand how these trends are affecting their lives,” says Panzer.

Tech is the Gateway to the Middle Class

COVID-19 took its toll on the workforce in Indianapolis. At the start of the pandemic, the jobless rate hit 12.8% in the city. Many low- and middle-income jobs were lost, pushing people further out of the middle class.

“Their jobs were focused in industries where there was lots of face-to-face contact and couldn’t be done on a computer,” explains Austan Goolsbee, professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He tells us that to keep up with the shift in industry—from manufacturing to tech—education remains a ticket to a good-paying, middle-class job.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoes that sentiment in an interview with WorkingNation for the digital magazine.

“Unemployment is now thankfully under 5%, but big challenges remain. Over 90% of Indy residents who have filed for unemployment reported making less than $50,000 a year. For families, these wages are often not sustainable, and don’t always allow for spending on educational opportunities to advance,” Mayor Hogsett says.

Education is particularly important as the skills needed in the workforce change.

“While it isn’t the largest slice of the employment pie, tech is still substantial in our ecosystem with over 5,000 open positions today. Plus—as gateways to the middle class—we must do everything we can to make sure a more economically and racially diverse workforce fills those jobs.”

Joe Hogsett, Mayor of Indianapolis (Photo: Office of the Mayor)

‘We Don’t Want Anyone Left Behind’

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb was among the dozens of people we spoke to for the magazine and for the short documentary film that makes up the heart of The Middle: Indianapolis.

He tells WorkingNation that even before the pandemic, the economies of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana—like the rest of the country—were undergoing a radical change.

“There’s been such a transformation due to technology. We’re living in this digital age where it’s every sector, plus tech. This is where you look specifically at the middle class. We don’t want anyone to be left behind,” says Governor Holcomb.

“The middle class is truly the engine to our economy and to someone’s life. It’s about skilling up and keeping up with the times.”

From The Middle: Indianapolis (Photo: WorkingNation)

What’s Being Done on the Ground?

Governor Holcomb, Mayor Hogsett, and dozens more civic, education, and nonprofit leaders that we spoke with for the digital magazine discuss what they are doing to ensure that everyone has access to the education and help they need to create a pathway to middle-class success.

These programs and initiatives are making progress. For the magazine, we also spoke to Indianapolis residents who are benefiting from them, and who have taking the steps toward well-paying jobs and careers.

These are important stories to tell and share, ones that can be a blueprint for communities and workers everywhere.

We invite you to watch and read how Indianapolis is working to keep the middle class alive and thriving here: The Middle: Indianapolis