The Middle Class Movement: Measuring The Dream

By Dale Caldwell

Just a few months before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement decided to expand their nonviolent protests to include a focus on reducing poverty in the United States. They realized that civil rights legislation can reduce discrimination, however, people are not truly “free” until they can pay their bills and live in decent housing. Poor and lower middle class people of all races and backgrounds, who were struggling to pay their bills in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, did not have a voice in society. Dr. King and others leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) decided to build on the Civil Rights Movement to include something that they called the “Poor People’s Campaign” to give this segment of society a powerful voice.

The focus of this campaign was on lobbying for an Economic Bill of Rights that called for “A meaningful job at a living wage; A secure and adequate income for people unable to find a job; access to land for economic uses; access to capital for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses; and, an ability for ordinary people to play a significant role in the government.” In 1967, the Movement leaders planned a march at Lafayette Park on Connecticut Avenue and the establishment of a “Tent City” in Washington, DC in the summer of 1968. In spite of Dr. King’s assassination in April of 1968, they moved forward, under the leadership of Dr. Ralph Abernathy, with the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations in 1968 and brought 7,000 marchers and 3,000 people to live in tents for 6 weeks. Unfortunately, the campaign was not successful because of fierce resistance by the government and a lack of funds. The effort was disbanded by the end of the summer in 1968.

My Father, Civil Rights Leader Reverend Gilbert H. Caldwell, Jr. (pictured below with Rev. Abernathy and Dr. King at a press conference announcing a march to integrate the Boston Public Schools in 1965), convinced me that a new movement is needed to pick up where the Poor People’s Campaign ended. Tragically, urban communities are, in many ways worse off now than they were when my Dad and Dr. King marched. Broken families are commonplace, unemployment is rampant, crime is at epidemic proportions, households are struggling to pay their bills, substandard or overcrowded housing is commonplace, and, perhaps most tragic of all, there is a major crisis in student reading levels. The Middle Class Movement ( was founded to bring people together to focus on measurable outcomes related to financial and educational poverty.

Gilbert H. Caldwell, Jr. with Rev. Abernathy and Dr. King
Gilbert H. Caldwell, Jr. with Rev. Abernathy and Dr. King

This movement is based on the realization that legislation is only effective when its implementation is measured in quantifiable ways. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by themselves did not solve social problems because there was no clear measure of whether or not they were being enforced. The same is true today. Brown vs. Board of Education outlawed school segregation yet schools across the country remain segregated based on income instead of race. The federal poverty rate that was developed in 1964 based on the cost of food is outdated because it does not take into account major expenses like housing and child care. The measure that the federal government currently uses to assess poverty is therefore inaccurate and outdated.

If someone asked a political leader what the score of the last game their favorite sports team played most of them could probably tell them the score and where their team stands in comparison to their biggest rivals. However, if these same politicians were asked “What’s the score in your community?” “What percentage of households make enough money to pay their annual bills?” “What percentage of 4th graders (9 and 10 year olds) can read at grade level?” Chances are that the people who make decisions on how money and jobs are allocated have no idea what the answers to these questions are. However, the answers to these two simple questions are the key to transforming communities and achieving Dr. King’s dream of racial and economic equality.

ev. Gilbert H. Caldwell and wife, Grace D. Caldwell in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell and wife, Grace D. Caldwell in Red Bank, New Jersey.

The Middle Class Movement (MCM) is focused on using social media and activism to challenge political, business, education and community leaders to implement policies that increase the Living Wage Index or “LWI” (the percentage of households that can pay their bills in a municipality) and the Reading Level Index or “RLI” (the percentage of 4th graders reading at grade level in a school district). A close examination of these measures clearly shows that the US is in the midst of an income and education crisis.

Table 1 lists the percentage of households that are able to pay their bills in 8 major cities. This table indicates that an unacceptably large percentage of households cannot pay their bills in these urban communities. Tragically, the average percentage of households in “Living Wage Crisis” in these 8 cities is 42.85%. Table 2 lists the percentage of 4th graders reading at grade level. This table shows that a surprisingly high percentage of 4th graders cannot read at grade level. There is clearly a public education crisis in these cities because 82.5% of the students do not read at grade level. Research suggests that 4th grade students who do not read at grade level are likely to be unemployed, on welfare or in prison when they become adults. MCM is empowering citizens to ask both conservative and liberal politicians how, in a wealthy country like the US, almost 43% of the households cannot pay their bills and 82.5% of the 4th graders do not read at grade level.

MCM is committed to organizing citizens around the world to use these and other measures to hold government, business and community leaders accountable for creating local jobs to increase the LWI and improving literacy to increase the RLI. This will do more to improve the quality of life in poor communities than federal and local legislation and laws. The MCM is growing rapidly because people are finally realizing that measurement of community well-being has been the missing element in efforts to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.
Table 1

Living Wage Index (LWI)*
The Percentage of Households that can Pay Their Bills

Baltimore, MD – 58.04%
Chicago, ILL – 62.40%
Dallas, TX – 55.81%
Detroit, MI – 44.41%
Houston, TX – 61.25%
Los Angeles, CA – 56.52%
New York, NY – 60.93%
Philadelphia, PA – 57.86%

*Based on the 2014 US Census and the MIT Living Wage Calculator
Table 2*

Reading Level Index (RLI)*
The Percentage of 4th Graders that Read at Grade Level

Baltimore, MD – 14%
Chicago, ILL – 21%
Dallas, TX – 16%
Detroit, MI – 8%
Houston, TX – 20%
Los Angeles, CA – 18%
New York, NY – 28%
Philadelphia, PA – 15%

*Based on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores

Bio of Dale G. Caldwell
Dale is the CEO of Strategic Influence, LLC and the author of the entertaining and thought-provoking book, Intelligent Influence®: The 4 Steps of Highly Successful Leaders and Organizations. Dale’s professional experience includes serving as the Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships at Scholastic; CEO of Strategic Influence, LLC; the Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA); the Executive Director of the Newark Alliance; and, as a Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting. Dale has been the President of the Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission (MRESC) for fourteen years and a member of the New Brunswick Board of Education for sixteen years. He is recognized as a Master Board Member (MBM) by the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) and had the honor of winning the 2015 Charter Champion Administrator of the Year award given by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association last year. In 2009, he was named the New Jersey School Board Member of the Year by the NJSBA. Prior to that, he received the New Jersey Pride Award in Education from New Jersey Monthly Magazine in 1998.
Dale graduated from Princeton University and received an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He also completed the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Executives in State and Local Government program and is a student in Seton Hall’s Executive Ed.D. Program in Educational Leadership. He is a former board member of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), recipient of the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) Tennis Educational Merit Award and the curator of the ITHF’s Breaking The Barriers exhibit on black tennis history. Dale is also an accomplished athlete who has completed three marathons and earned national rankings in tennis, triathlon and duathlon. He lives in New Brunswick with his eleven year old daughter Ashley.
Dale can be reached on his personal cell phone at (732) 208-9808 or on his personal email at