Skip to Content

Data Sheet—Why the Middle Class in America Is Under Siege

Dollar Stores On The Rise As The Erosion Of  The Middle Class ContinuesDollar Stores On The Rise As The Erosion Of  The Middle Class Continues
Growing income inequality and rising prices for health care and education are squeezing the American middle class.Spencer Platt—Getty Images

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

In April, 2007, I pitched a story to my editors at Fortune about “income inequality in America.” The New York Times recently had written a story about inequality being worse than at any time since the Depression. “The rich are richer than ever. Unemployment is extremely low. The stock market is healthy,” I wrote in an internal memo. “Yet the ranks of uninsured continues to rise. Americans are less sure than ever that they’ll be taken care of in their retirement.”

I didn’t know the economy would crater a year later, setting in motion a series of events that would lead to more inequality, a breakdown of established post-World War II norms, and Trumpism.

I can’t remember why I didn’t write the story. The timing would have been good.

Sadly, the topic is as relevant as ever, and Fortune has undertaken a package on poverty in our world today. Editor-in Chief Clifton Leaf kicks off the package with an insightful essay on the shrinking middle class, including an interesting explication of what that surprisingly complicated term means.

Corporate bigwigs feign interest in inequality—and some may be sincere. But when push comes to shove, their bonuses, promotions, performance targets and the like take precedence. With Christmas and New Year’s upon us, perhaps some will dig into our package—and reflect on ways to make our society better. And more equal.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Double, double, toil and trouble. After the latest revelations of Facebook leaking user data to partner companies, privacy groups are and seeking tighter regulation and asking the Federal Trade Commission to punish the company. “This latest revelation underscores the need to strengthen data privacy laws,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in its statement. The Attorney General for the District of Columbia did more than complain. He sued the company, alleging Facebook’s actions during the 2016 election violated consumer protection laws. Facebook shareholders took a hit, too, as the company’s stock price dropped 7% on Wednesday and is now down 24% this year.

Fire burn and caldron bubble. Qualcomm won a second legal victory over Apple. On Thursday, a German court ruled that Apple violated a Qualcomm patent on hardware. Sales of some iPhone models could be banned in Germany, but the ban doesn’t go into effect if Apple appeals. A Chinese court found Apple in violation of two Qualcomm software patents earlier this month.

Fillet of a fenny snake. Futures contracts based on bitcoin have been trading for about a year, coinciding with the cryptocurrency’s steep decline. But now regulators are on the verge of approving a futures contract on bitcoin that traders will be able to settle in bitcoin, not cash as with the current contracts. The move could increase interest in actually using bitcoin, so proponents argue.

Eye of newt and toe of frog. At times, it looked like the boom of so-called unicorns, or tech startups valued at $1 billion or more, would end badly. Now they’re going public at a rapid rate: 38 this year, the most since 2000, Dealogic says. Who is next? Social media site Pinterest is in the midst of preparing for an IPO in the first part of next year, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company, which could reach a valuation of $12 billion, recently began the process of choosing its bankers.

Wool of bat and tongue of dog. Speaking of unicorns, the Indian food startup with the great name, Swiggy, raised $1 billion in private funding in a deal valuing the company at $3.3 billion. The round was led by prior investor Naspers but included new investors Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, and Wellington Management. At the other end of the startup spectrum, Chinese bike sharing company Ofo is under “immense cash flow pressures” and considered declaring bankruptcy, CEO Dai Wei wrote in a letter to customers and employees.

For a charm of powerful trouble. If you were waiting to cut your cable cord until T-Mobile and its disruptive CEO John Legere introduced their Internet video service, hang on. The new offering, originally touted for a 2018 introduction, is delayed until 2019, Bloomberg reports.

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. A couple of reports cast doubt on Amazon’s grocery push via its Whole Foods acquisition. A consumer survey by UBS found fewer members of Amazon Prime shopped at Whole Foods at least once a month in 2018 compared to 2017. And a study by Brick Meets Click found Amazon shoppers using grocery delivery spent less than half on average of households getting delivery from other physical grocery chains.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Thanks to heavy corporate lobbying by Disney, among others, the United States extended copyright protections so drastically that no older works entered the public domain at all for the past 21 years. That ends on January 1, when works created in 1923 finally lose their protection. The haul includes Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” among other notable works. Writer Glenn Fleishman explains in Smithsonian Magazine:

“The public domain has been frozen in time for 20 years, and we’re reaching the 20-year thaw,” says Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. The release is unprecedented, and its impact on culture and creativity could be huge. We have never seen such a mass entry into the public domain in the digital age. The last one—in 1998, when 1922 slipped its copyright bond—predated Google. “We have shortchanged a generation,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “The 20th century is largely missing from the internet.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Why DARPA Funded a Farm Tech Startup By Michal Lev-Ram

Trump Supporter Launches $1 Billion GoFundMe Campaign to Finance Border Wall By Natasha Bach

How to Delete WhatsApp (Including All Your Data) By Emily Price

Salesforce Co-CEO Keith Block on Marc Benioff, Homelessness, and Trust By Jonathan Vanian

Drones Shut Down London Gatwick Airport, Stranding 10,000 Passengers By Lucas Laursen

Coinbase to Pay Users to Try Crypto Assets By Jeff John Roberts

These Are Some of the Worst and Most Outrageous Gifts Employees Say They Have Received By Rachel King

BEFORE YOU GO

They’re calling it the super blood wolf moon eclipse. Look to the skies on the night of January 20 and view the confluence of a lunar eclipse at a time when the moon is closet to earth (“super”), with a red tinge due to the atmosphere (“blood”), and the first full moon of the year (“wolf”). Wonder if it’s a harbinger of something big?

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.