So you think you’re middle-class. I’ve already written several pieces about America’s disappearing middle-class but many Americans still cling to the notion that they remain in the middle-class. I’ve done a little homework and I’m beginning to wonder if many of those who think they are/were in the middle ever actually were.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is my family’s gross income close to $50,000 annually?
- Is my family’s income secure? Can we count on it being there tomorrow and many tomorrows in the future?
- Do we own our own home or are able to meet the mortgage payments with little difficulty?
- Is the neighborhood we live in safe?
- Do we own at least one dependable vehicle?
- Are we able to save enough for our children’s college tuition?
- Are we able to save enough for retirement?
- Do we have enough disposable income for a few frills?
If you’re having trouble answering these questions in the affirmative you’re probably not middle-class. If you’ve never been able to answer yes to these questions then you’ve most likely never been middle-class. According to an ABC News poll in 2010, “45 percent of Americans define themselves as middle class (very similar to a CNN poll that year). They earned about $55,000 a year, compared with about $95,000 for those who defined themselves as above the middle class…” How one sees perceives their situation is often quite different than reality. The anorexic looks in the mirror and sees a fat person.
In Alabama today, a new foreign-owned auto manufacturing plant is paying wages between $14 and $17 an hour while the average worker in an American owned plant earns $28. Let me do the math. Those in Alabama are grossing between $29,000 and $35,000 annually. Those who work in an American owned plant and belong to the UAW are averaging $58,000 a year. Most Americans today would love to have a job paying $14 an hour. If they could find one, however, short of a ton of overtime they wouldn’t qualify as middle-class even if they were in the $17 an hour bracket.
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The median household income in Ohio, adjusted for inflation, is only a little over $400 more in 2009 than it was in 1984. In 1980 the bottom 90% of wage earners took in 65% of available income. By 2008 that figure had dropped to 54% with most of the gains going to those earning more than $300,000 annually. The wealthiest 1% in 1986 grabbed over 11% of all income and by 2008 their share had increased to 20%. In today’s reality 2% owns over 40% of the nation’s wealth.
As mentioned in earlier articles, a major cause of our “hour-glass” economy includes a tax structure that greatly favors the wealthy. Just as millions of American jobs were disappearing overseas the Bush administration enacted $7 trillion in unfunded tax cuts that greatly favored the wealthy, became embroiled in our two longest wars in history.
America’s treasury has simply been bled out by unfunded tax breaks for the rich, unfunded expansions of the Medicare program, and spending on questionable wars leaving little for maintaining the nation’s infrastructure, improving education, funding research projects, and preparing the nation to compete in a changing global economy.
The question I have to ask myself is why are American’s not more angry than they seem. Yeah, there is a loud, and seemingly angry, Tea Party but who are their members? How would the squeakiest of them answer the above questions? The ones I’m familiar with would have trouble making it into the middle-class yet they remain adamantly supportive of those who are most directly responsible for the hour-glass getting trimmer at its middle.
Major backers of the Tea Party movement, including the Koch brothers, have seen their personal fortunes soar in the past decade while substantially decreasing the number of Americans they hire. The Kochs have spent untold millions founding and supporting organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, a major Tea Party backer whose job is to convince the disgruntled that big business is not the culprit. Their principle right-wing argument remains unchanged, cut taxes and America will grow. To the contrary, since Reagan the GOP has cut taxes at every opportunity with the results being the further decline of the middle-class accompanied by tremendous growth in corporate income and the personal wealth of billionaires such as the Kochs.
Recent headlines might lead one to believe that a swell of protest is building in America. Occupy Wall Street, a rather undefined protest against the roll our large financial institutions have played in the mega-recession we’ve all been experiencing, seems to be growing. Similar protest are planned for a number of major cities but it is to be determined how large and how effective this movement will become.
In the meantime, the average American continues losing ground, our consumer driven economy isn’t recovering because consumer income continues to fall, corporate profits and cash reserves continue to grow, and the political establishment, more than ever and regardless of party affiliation, continues to dig their greedy little mitts deeper into the pockets of the rich and influential. In America, more than ever, money does the talking and the average Joe (not the plumber) does the walking.