Will the Middle Class Become a Thing of the Past in the United States?

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Much hand wringing has been done over the fact that the middle class in America seems to be shrinking. The richest one percent widens its income gap over the rest of us. A few lucky or hard-working or entrepreneurial souls claw their way toward the top from poverty or the depths of the middle class. But most people who grew up in middle-class homes in the 80s, 90s, and 00s seem to be struggling with wage stagnation, excessive student debt, housing prices that put a serious strain on incomes, and a diminishing number of higher-paying jobs blamed more or less equally on automation and global competition.

Does all this mean the middle class will disappear in the United States in the next decade or so? Possibly, but probably not. The more likely scenario is that the middle class will be redefined. Right now, class is determined almost exclusively by income. The flaw in that measure is that class is not only about money. Class is more about values, lifestyle, education levels, and other non-monetary measures.

As more workers in other countries achieve middle-class status based on income in their countries, fewer in the U.S. will maintain middle-class income levels. But most Americans have access to higher education, despite its excessive cost relative to family income. Middle-class values such as hard work, honesty, integrity, and personal responsibility continue to be taught in public schools. Going out to eat, socializing, attending community events such as sports, theater, music, and charitable functions are still emphasized and seen as worthy activities. Peaceful co-existence and acceptance of diversity are more prevalent than ever before, despite the news media constantly highlighting differences between races, religions, sexual preferences, and socio-economic classes.

The middle class is changing, but will not likely disappear. It will probably manifest itself in a class of people that earn less money, spend less money, and emphasize quality of life rather than quantity of accumulated things.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-The middle class is surely on its way, if it isn’t already, to becoming a thing of the past in America for a number of reasons. The reasons are varied and their causes are due to the rising cost of living, less and less disposable/usable income, stagnant incomes, the housing market crisis with its subsequent recession, outsourcing of jobs, illegal immigration, drops in property and home ownership, overall anti-growth factors through overregulation and sustainability alternatives, and the rise of the wealthy as an exclusive class within itself.

Between 2000 and 2014, both lower and middle income wages have been in decline throughout the country, while those at considerably higher wage levels have seen significant increases in income. With this kind of stagnation at lower income levels, the quality of life and earning levels for middle class Americans have suffered serious damage. Recouping ability at this point in time, and under current economic conditions is almost nonexistent for those in the lower and middle income categories.

The cost of living is another reason for the decline of the middle class. Expenses for gas, food, rent, and higher dollar luxuries  such as cars, appliances, and other big ticket items have become prohibitive and it has gotten to the point where people cannot afford to live much less have a better quality of life.  College tuition costs, expenses for employer health care plans as well as limited-benefit retirement plans have also all but zapped the middle class.

Lower and middle class incomes have also been distorted by the fact that most middle class families are two-earner families, which involves another set of expenses and stress factors such as, transportation to and from work, child care costs, longer working hours, limited family and activity time, and other miscellaneous monetary and personal costs that go along with the conflicts of two people working.  Even with two separate incomes, there is still not enough to get by as ever-rising living expenses overtake any added income.  Single-earner families face even more struggles and deficits that bring them to the verge of poverty.

Home ownership, once a big part of the middle class American Dream has plunged, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, to 65 percent in 2013, which was the lowest in almost 20 years. Causes of drops in middle class home ownership can be attributed to the housing crisis abuses as well as rising living costs, stagnant incomes and drops in first-time buyers.  Other causes are the result of investment groups buying up unoccupied homes and renting them out, which puts those in the middle class out of reach as homeowners, while investment groups become owner/landlords paying mortgage payments through their renters.

Millions of jobs have been removed from the economy because of over regulation and bad trade deals that have allowed corporations to outsource American jobs and replace them with foreign workers at lower wages. Illegal immigration and employment of illegals has also caused job losses and income disparity as well as redistribution of lower and middle income jobs through Visa programs within America. These losses have devastated middle class individuals in many sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, building, technology, food processing, natural resource production, and other related businesses and industries.

Income growth continues to increase but not in the direction of the middle class. It is escalating and going to the wealthiest of Americans. They are the percentage of elites that control large pockets of wealth throughout the country. They work in high level government positions, own, oversee and run large businesses and corporations, and are in banking, investing and lobbying. They have myriad investments, own property, houses and enjoy multiple streams of income. They have profited from the corporations that employ them in high powered executive positions, and in spite of any lags in corporate profits, the profits that have been made are going to pay huge executive salaries, which has created a tremendous gap between worker pay and CEO salaries. Instead of reinvesting corporate profits in workers and the businesses themselves, profits in the form of dividends have gone to administrators and corporate executives.

Anti-growth factors have added to the decline of the middle class as stifling regulations have strangled and halted progression of small business ownership, startups and other work related to small businesses.  Employment of workers in small businesses is virtually at a standstill and if it exists, wages and health care costs make hiring on a full time basis unaffordable.

Deliberate actions have caused the decline of the middle class and those in charge have instituted it through manipulative and dishonest means at the corporate level as well as through Wall Street, banking, politicians, lobbyists, the Congress, and the executive and judicial branches of the government.   They have all worked towards the erosion of the middle class and the repositioning, handoff and control of wealth to a small percentage of individuals.

The only hope to save the middle class from oblivion  is to rejuvenate it through drastic changes in the current overall system of operation, which includes renegotiating trade deals, reestablishing and revamping  manufacturing and related industries, rescinding and replacing current regulatory mandates, limiting outsourcing and insourcing of jobs to foreign nationals, following established immigration laws, balancing income disparity, and ending corruptive influences that have allowed the uber wealthy to control the lives of the less affluent and once vibrant middle class.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Back in the ‘50s, the postwar years defined the middle class with what was thought to be a permanent solidity.  The two-car garage, the white picket fence, the 4-bedroom, 2 ½-bathroom house with a yard and a swing set out back was thought to be every American’s birthright.

Times have changed, the world has moved on, and now that humble suburban dwelling is fetching upward of $300,000 if you want to live in a neighborhood where your neighbors decorate their yards with something other than old appliances, junk cars and liquor bottles.

The old concept of the middle class is not just dying, it’s moldering in the grave. It’s been gone since the Reagan Era, when trickle-down economics enabled the wealthy to become the super-rich and the proletariat to continue on their middling course.  The wealth gap is now so huge that it’s no longer possible to cross it without inventing a new iPhone or hitting the Powerball.  Living in the middle of the gap is difficult, as tax laws, insurance regulations and other pressures seek to force you either up or down.

And yet there are still middle-class citizens, people who have 2.5 kids, live in a home (or apartment), pay their bills, own a car and hold one (or two or three) jobs.  I think what we need to do is redefine the middle class to encompass those people who, while they may not have it easy, are at least comfortable enough to squeeze in a week at the beach or a ski trip now and again.  The wife may not stay home and bake cookies, but the whole family does occasionally get together on weekends to make spaghetti sauce.

In short, it’s not necessarily the middle class itself that’s dead or dying, it’s the 60-year-old concept of what the middle class is.


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