Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Phantasy Called the Middle Class

The distribution of income in the United States forty years ago was not significantly different from that of other developed countries. The power and stability of our middle class was the envy of business communities and governments worldwide.

The opportunity for an individual, through their own effort, to enter the middle-class was better than any other country in the world.

The facts today are far bleaker. To find societies as unequal as the United States currently, you must forget about all the developed nations’ economies and look to Latin America.

In addition, today a hard worker motivated to acquire middle class economic security for his family, has a better chance in almost all other developed countries including Canada and Great Britain.

In 1967 as a single mom with three kids I had a factory job that paid $5.75 an hour (I cleared about $875 a month) with monthly bonuses and full health care. My house payment was $211 a month for a reasonably nice three bedroom ranch on a three acre lot. My utility bills ran less than $100 a month and $100 a month fed my kids, who were all big eaters. House maintenance, car payments, car maintenance and insurance, medicine, school supplies and clothing pretty much ate up the rest.

Our vacations were spent camping at one of the many Federal parks les than a day’s drive away. The fee was $2.00 a night with all the swimming, boating, hiking etc. free ..bathrooms, showers and water supplied free.

My budget was tight..and it was close..

But I didn’t know how lucky I was!

In 2007 factory jobs were gone..replaced by jobs offered by Walmart, McDonald’s, QuickTrip, truck stops, etc. and the local nursing home. Office workers’ and service workers’salaries had quickly dropped in direct correlation with the destruction of the unions in the 1980’s. Although not heavily unionized themselves, they had benefited from the wage floor gained by the unions for their own workers. Office workers and service workers now joined the ranks of the minimum wage worker.

A worker, with or without a family, was looking at the same $5.75 an hour, (minimum wage had stagnated through the Bush W era), health insurance costs of $500-$700 a month, minimal housing at $500 amonth, $500 a month to keep a car to get to work, $2-$3 a gallon gas, $200 a month utility bills.. Even a two-wage earner household bringing home $1800 a month..or the lucky individual who had escaped the minimum wage trap and earned $10-$12 an hour..(they would be clearing about $1400 a month) would still be having an impossible struggle.

And that vacation at the Lake? Forget that! Camping rental the last time I checked was $15 a night. Water, shower and toilet services had been suspended at many locations and fees instated for some services formerly provided. Fifteen dollars plus a night may still sound cheap if you are retired on a 1970’s retirement benefit or in the top earner bracket but when you’re living on $1400 a month with a family it’s not so cheap.

Something is terribly wrong here. When workers no longer have any hope of attaining the security of the middle class..when the wealth of our country no longer goes to those who work.. something is terribly wrong.

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