The other day I took the opportunity to enter a comment, at a business blog, that alluded in passing to my favorite conspiracy theory; to wit: over the past two or three decades, we have been watching the deliberate erosion of the American middle class.
Don’t believe it? Well, skepticism is healthy.
• If you can’t get access to affordable medical care (exorbitant insurance premiums do not qualify as “affordable”), you’re not in the middle class, certainly not by the standards of any other developed country.
• If your access to health-care services and to a health care provider of your choice is limited, you’re not in the middle class.
• If the quality of education in your local public schools is so poor that you have seriously entertained the possibility of homeschooling—not for religious reasons but because you’re concerned for your kids’ literacy, their safety, or both and you can’t afford private school—you’re not in the middle class.
• If you counsel your children to get a vocational diploma in college instead of a full education that will inform them of the history and significance of their culture because you’re afraid their bachelor’s degree will qualify them to stock the shelves at Borders, you and they are not in the middle class.
• If you’re not on track or ahead of schedule to accumulate enough savings to live on through your old age without benefit of Social Security, you are not in the middle class.
• If your house is worth less than you’re paying for it, you’re not in the middle class.
• If you’re driving a clunk because you can’t afford to buy a newer car now, you’re not in the middle class.
• If you buy your clothes at Goodwill less for the entertainment value than because you feel you shouldn’t spend the money on new clothing, you’re not in the middle class.
• If you were to lose your job tomorrow and you know the likelihood of replacing it with a job that pays about the same is low to nil, you’re barely clinging to the middle class.
• If jobs in your industry are increasingly being outsourced to Indonesia and waypoints, you won’t be in the middle class much longer.
• If the real reason you wear your hair down around your shoulders is less because that you like it that way than because you feel you can’t afford to go to a stylist once every four to eight weeks, you’re not in the middle class.
• If you would rather use department-store cosmetics but you get your makeup at the drugstore because you cringe at paying department-store prices (though you happen to know there’s no real difference), you’re not in the middle class.
• If you live in a big coastal city and you don’t earn a six-figure income, you’re not in the middle class.
• If you live anywhere else and earn less than $40,000 or $50,000 (depending on the region), you’re not in the middle class.
• If you are the breadwinner in your house and you earn what a typical teacher earns, you’re not in the middle class.
• If you and your spouse or partner depend on both your incomes to maintain a middle-class standard of living for your household, you as individuals are not in the middle class (check out the book from which this article was spun).
• If your spouse or partner earns enough to maintain your household in middle-class splendor while you earn pocket money, your companion is in the middle class and you’re not.
Still think you’re living in the middle class? Or even in Kansas, Toto?
It’s hard to deny that our country is polarizing economically as radically as it has polarized politically. I personally don’t think it’s an accident. We could argue over conspiracy theory and over the reasons and the fixes until we’re all carted off from the poorhouse and delivered to the nursing home. But there it is. IMHO it has little to do with technology and nothing to do with the recession. There’s been more to this than has met the eye…for quite a long time.