5/1/2013 8:30 PM ET|
Middle class resigned to stagnation
America's middle class has long embodied the nation’s optimism. Today, though, the chief preoccupation is less a dream of upward mobility than the fear of falling behind.
No longer does being middle class mean getting ahead. It now means just not falling too far behind.
That's according to the 16th quarterly Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll released last week. Here, 54% of those surveyed defined the middle class as those who could still keep up with bills, not get too buried in debt, and not lose their jobs.
Once basic economic goals -- such as paying for a child's college education, retiring comfortably or even just surviving a health care emergency -- are only realistic for the upper class, according to 40% of those surveyed.
Annual vacations, regular pay increases, quality health care, and even just basic job security -- these things are now only manageable for the upper class, about one-third of those surveyed reported.
"People are not really asking the Ronald Reagan question anymore -- Are you better off than you were four years ago? -- because they don't expect to be," said Ronald Brownstein, editorial director for National Journal, in a telephone interview. "Not falling through the floor is the new getting ahead."
If you really want to know how the economy is doing, don't ask an economist. Ask someone who still aspires to be in the middle class. "Over the last four years, Americans' views in this poll have been consistently right about the economy," said Allstate CEO Thomas J. Wilson in a press release "Today, they are sounding the alarm bell that the economy is not on track for sustainable growth."
People surveyed may know more about the economy because they bear the brunt of it. Here's what a few of them said:
- "The middle class has become a treading-water position. …. Opportunities have been stifled in the past 20 or 30 years." -- Loren Cowdery, a graduate student who delivers pizzas in Bellingham, Wash.
- "I feel sorry for my kids -- they're just getting out of college -- because they have nothing to look forward to. They're not going to have the ability in the near future to buy a home. There are thousands of people who are going to be stuck with their student loans." -- Tim Cooper, an equipment salesman who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
- "Everything is going up, but wages are staying the same. By the time I retire, I hope I have Social Security, because other than that I've got nothing." -- Dale High, a 54-year-old trucker from Idaho.
The good news, though, is that almost everyone in America can still consider themselves middle class, especially now that they've lowered the bar.
Of those surveyed, 85% said they were at some level in the middle class -- 46% said they were truly in the middle, 26% said they were lower middle class, and 12% said they were upper middle class. Only 2% called themselves "upper class."
In a rare moment of optimism, those surveyed said they believe a typical middle-class family makes about $65,000 per year. Median household income, however, is just a little over $50,000, meaning half of all households make less than that.
If you want to know who is really in the middle class, put a few names from the Forbes rich list on one end of a chart, and names of some food stamp recipients on the other, and everyone in between is the middle class. You don't have to admit you're poor. You don't have to brag if you're rich.
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Middle-class people can't agree who they are, anyway, or who to blame for their decline.
A reader recently emailed me a 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon by Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader. It depicted a disgruntled character in six panels saying. "A corporation laid me off. A corporation took my house. Corporate cash is corrupting democracy. A corporation denied my claim. I hate the government."
Indeed, most surveyed blamed the government for their declining economic plights. According to the survey, 64% believe Congress is making things worse for the middle class and 45% believe President Obama is making things worse.
They also blamed big business, but to a lesser extent: 54% said CEOs of major U.S. corporations are making things worse for the middle class, and 55% said major financial institutions are making things worse.
Only 29% believe the nation is headed in the "right direction," down from 41% just last November. So much for the big vote.
The middle class agrees one of its biggest problems is an economy that is conspiring against it -- whether it's because of the soulless forces of technology and globalization, or the more insidious powers of systemic corporate and government corruption. They bounce from one party to the next, looking for change, yet none comes.
"Our political allegiance revolves more around cultural values than economic interests," explained Brownstein.
Guns, gay rights, abortions -- voters help decide stuff like that. Economic policy, meanwhile, is more heavily influenced by the companies that can afford the most powerful lobbies.
That's why America's middle class is mad as heck, and they're just going to keep right on taking it.
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VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
The Sky Above ...The Mud Below,
How can any average person in this country still believe that the so-called 'American Dream' is attainable and sustainable?...It's not, and it hasn't been for at least three decades. This fantasy 'carrot' of economic prosperity and security has been dangled on a string in front of people for so long that many actually came to believe in the fairy tale...and that's all it is, a perpetrated gigantic fairy tale.
Just like the actuary tables used by life insurance companies, crunching the matrix of real economic numbers and indicators unmask and disclose the real story. The power/elite who comprise about 1/2 of 1% of the population and their Fortune 500 corporations control 85% of the wealth in this nation. The other 312 million people in the country are grovelling around on the ground for the remaining 15% ...the random crumbs that the power/elite do not yet own...but eventually will.
The entire economy, bolstered by overt governmental malfeasance and blatant corruption, is nothing but a gigantic house of cards and it can not possibly sustain the status quo for much longer before it collapses upon it's own greed and avarice. Unfortunately, anyone who thinks otherwise has their head buried in the sand. Good luck and Godspeed.
Peace to all ~
If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be over $90,000, not $52,000. Since 1979, productivity has risen over 80%, average income of the top 1% has risen over 230%, but average overall wages for the remainder of us rose less than 15%. With unemployment hovering near 8%, it is highly unlikely "market forces" will continue to sustain even today's current incomes for households beneath those in the top 20th percentile. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the share of household income of all households beneath the top 20th percentile actually declined between 1979 and 2007-- even before the 2008 recession.
If private enterprises refuse to share profits from productivity gains with their employees, it they refuse to reinvest their profits to expand their operations in this country, it is only logical to assume that government at all levels must be the employer of last resort as it was during the Great Depression. Fulfilling that function will be difficult, however, if our elected representatives vote only to support the interests of their wealthy benefactors.
It's amazing with the constant news of congressional failure that people still pick one side over the other. The people that do are very afraid. They cover it with RaRa BS for either side, but in the end any of the people posting comments for or against a particular side just will never get it. That is how you got caught up into this trap.
That divisive "My side is better than your side" rhetoric. That is the belief that these cockroaches in congress and the puerile slime running Wall Street bank on. Educate yourself, neither side is right, they're both wrong. Do you have the courage to truly stand up for your constitutional beliefs and create a new system? Probably not. Perhaps a new Revolution is the only choice now.
No, our real problem is, we are getting too used to a dysfunctional CONgress.
Looks like we keep trying to shift what "middle class" means. Even in the opening paragraphs the author mentions "annual vacations". Growing up in the 60 - 70s, I considered myself and those around me middle class, but no one I knew took annual vacations. I think we took two modest trips the whole time I lived at home. The people who went to Disney World we considered well off. We had larger families, but lived in much smaller homes, in my early years, even air conditioning would have been considered a luxury.
Incomes have stagnated, but I think collectively, we still have a hangover from the time when way too many lived on 120% of our income. It is a big adjustment to living on a prudent 80% of your income, especially when that income has stagnated or fallen.
Armed civilians need to march into NYC, DC, and London. Most of you have not, and will not, be able to understand that IT WILL NOT GET BETTER. It's unfathomable to truly understand for most people, but it really is as simple as PHYSICALLY FORCING THEM OUT. Sometimes, when you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. You have to think about the future of this country and the future of your children and grandchildren, and stand up and say to them:
"THIS **** HAS GOT TO GO!!!"
CEO's giving themselves raises while we live paycheck to paycheck. They give themselves so many stock options that even if every other stockholder voted against their raises, they and their board would out vote us.
Then you got all these ILLEGAL immigrants who will work for less so therefore dilute the pay structure that we will never get ahead. I truly believe that our government and business leaders have conspired to make the middle class into third world wage earners. Does anyone remember when you could get overtime; but now they want you to work 4 10 hour days then bring in a weekend crew to do what you used to do for overtime. Now with Obamacare you'll be lucky to work 30 hours.
American dream, what a scam. I feel sorry for my children that will inherit this crap this country has force fed us. By the time my son is old enough to work, he will just be a slave like the rest of us. For 2 weeks worth the work, I barely clear $600. After being taxed to death, my meager wage is turned into slave labor almost. It is getting even more hopeless as inflation on everything continues to skyrocket. Big oil, and big government are the ones at fault. It's not the lefty's or the right's, IT IS ALL OF THEM. They have driven this country to the point of no return, and we will be forever under foot. Goodbye middle class, hello slavery.
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