“What has happened to middle class America?”

July 11, 2011

Filed in: The Home Front, The Middle Ages, The Way We Live Now

This piece in the Times pretty much freaked out my weekend, or at least my Saturday: Job Growth Falters, Clouding Hope for Recovery.

Scary stuff, for us personally but also for everyone (well, not you top 1% earners, y’all just carry on).

One of the things I’m interested in is the way it’s difficult for the middle class to talk about what’s happening to them—and I would include my family in that mix—without running into the “starving children in India” syndrome—namely, whatever bad thing is happening to you, it’s not as bad as what’s happening to the truly impoverished in our country (true) and to the other 99% of the world population (also true).

But there has to be a way to express this “hollowing out of the middle class” (as the academics keep calling it, hauntingly, I think) without running up against the attitude that you can’t complain/lament/sound the alarm until you’re completely bottomed out and living on the street, that you can’t say “this is wrong” if there’s anybody below you on the food chain.

Still working my head around that last bit, but appropos of that, this comment on the Times piece was eloquent and struck a nerve. Have a read:

My husband’s small business suffered greatly in 2008 and 2009. 2010 was better but, early in 2011, we noted that business had again begun to fall off. My own job, which I have held for fifteen years, is not at all secure; I fear that I will be laid off next year when my company “downsizes” its smaller offices.

This year, we have had to cope with a medical crisis that, because my husband is self-employed, and despite health insurance (because there are co-payments), forced us into debt. We are trying to climb out before I lose my job because, as an older worker, even though I am a professional with many years of experience, it will be difficult for me to find any new job, let alone one that pays my current salary. We are worried.

Yesterday, with my husband still recovering from surgery and my college student son unable to find summer work (he looked for two months), I had to tell my son that those few items that he’d wanted to pick up at the supermarket would have to wait. Never in his lifetime, or mine, had I had to say, “you can’t buy tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms until Saturday, because they are not necessities and I’m out of cash”. What has happened to middle-class America?

We are two college grads—I have three advanced degrees—who are facing economic chaos due to a failing economy. Where do I put the blame? Squarely on the Republican Party. Their policies have driven us into a ditch. It is not Obama’s fault that the recession has continued; the fault lies with McConnell, Cantor, Boehner and the rest of the Republican right. What Obama did—bail out GM and Chrysler, propose a stimulus bill—worked.

While I understand that actions have consequences, my actions and those of my family have been ethical and rational. All we needed to do to survive was remain employed. I am very frightened, and very angry that my fellow Americans continue to court economic disaster by electing Republican candidates—and are taking me down with them.

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