Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Impact of the Vanishing Middle Class

Before the Democratic Convention began, someone asked about the definition of the Middle Class. With so much rhetoric flying across the nation about who is in the Middle Class, where the poverty line resides, who are considered the rich (the Upper Class), and who is going about begging for a living, it was time to stop and answer the question. To a great extent, it impacts and colors how Government, both Federal and State, determine how health care dollars are allocated and to whom.

The person who posed the question had the following commentary to support it. "It used to be those who were not living in poverty but also not those living in luxury. Some of those in the upper regions have been fortunate enough to ease their way into the upper echelons. Some of those who were on the border of the low".

Without doing research in order to proffer an answer to the question, I responded by informing via historical definitions and paradigms. "Upper middle" and "lower middle" were terms used to allow the scale to be a five-part measurement, not three. Those terms allowed recognition of those who had escaped the low income level (but were not poverty) yet had not reached middle ground of "middle income." The complement of that is "upper middle" which, as I said, is the complement of "lower middle".

It's a good critical thinking question. A lot of us need to renew our acquaintance with the real numbers and the concepts. This calls for some research to flesh out what the "official" definitions are, not the speculations and unsupported opinions generated by a social conversation. I was able to find distinctions with regard to "midde", "upper", and "lower" on Google. The links are here. I also found what appears to be a useful 2010 article from Reuters News.

The speculations on how the define the classes evolved. Some examples of what was shared included:

Poor use to mean, you did not have a car, a cell phone, excess money for family trips, you had clothes from the second hand. Another expressed it in dollar amounts by noting that $50,000-200,000 middle was tantamount to being middle class by definition but their personal income definition was more toward $50-100 lower being lower and $150-200 being the upper middle. Yet another person in this very active conversation expressed an observation that Middle Class, Inner Class, Outer Class (Inner=upper & Outer=Lower). Ultimately, that person felt there aren't really any parameters at all. Just someone putting labels on classes. Someone else saw the answer to the question in terms of the ones who pay taxes - classic bell curve - the only place government can actually get real revenue. Yet another person expressed the definition in terms of fiscal burden by saying the middle class is the 50% who don't pay "taxes"; they are the poor who pay no income taxes. This person was quick to point out a very subtle counter argument the 50% under scrutiny do pay "taxes" in the long run that include payroll taxes, sales taxes, and so on.

The 50% are the ones who find theirselves in the uncomfortable position of having gained an enormous amount of formal education and training but are underpaid while cost of living and CPI continue to spiral upward. They find their selves in foreclosure or bankruptcy (or both) and forced to seek welfare and food stamps. They're so eager to survive that they don't notice the fine print on the "lending papers" that says the funds are merely grants that will need to be repaid at a future date or out of their remaining assets on their death.

They are also the ones who discover their government is the one that's been plundering their bank accounts for student loan debts, absconding their vehicles, issuing health insurance with monthly premiums that are 3/4 of what would be paid for rent. Unfortunately, the same government programs that issue the health insurance coverage (medicaid) does not pay any of the medical or doctor bills. Thus, the person in need finds theirself in even deeper debt; therefore, it means little ability to save their drowning self.

Meanwhile, all of the other aspects of Life and Living are still impacting them at an increasing rate. Nothing seems to be getting done. They begin to be coerced into doing things that are not part of their normal way of handling business or simply let go because there simply isn't enough of "their self" to do any more without killing their own self.

It is definitely not a pretty picture. Many of us would rather pretend it doesn't exist or rationalize it away as attributed to those low lifes who are too lazy to do anything for theirselves.

One person became dismayed. They felt the question is one with no specific answer, simply because it is used in relation to the terms "rich" and "poor". They expressed the observation that While none of the vast majority of people want to admit to being poor because they expend so much effort everyday toward not being it. In striking constrast to that type of self image and following any good advice from an inspirational speaker, those who are not financially considered in the middle class certainly do not consider themselves rich. The answer is subjective.

A conversationalist pointed out that a large part of the middle class definition problem lies with the bill of goods presented by the different tiers of government via the media. The person posited the idea that consuming (and possessing) things is the measure of ones' prosperity. Unfortunately, we no longer consider the quality of life until near the end of it, implying that quality of life should be part of the definition and that quality of life has a bearing on how well we live. That interpretation was supported as the conversationalist opined, "Who is to say that one who has no actual "money", but that does have a solid roof over their head, enough wholesome food in their belly, other people that care about (not just for) them, and interests that stimulate them are not rich. Conversely, can those lacking any of these, but with all they possessions they can acquire, be not poor?"

The person who initiated the discussion thanked those who responded. He also came to the conclusion that the 'Middle Class' is a moving target based on more variables than merely income. Based on what I found, it would be a good exercise in family learning for all generations to do the research and reading together and then discuss what is gleaned from the information. Be certain you share the conclusions with us!

Sponsored Link: Health Disparities in the United States: Social Class, Race, Ethnicity, and Health
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