Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Happened to the Middle Class?

I was listening to On Point on NPR* one day last week. Bruce Judson, the author of It Could Happen Here: America on the Brink, was a featured guest. Apparently he's saying that because the middle class feels like they've lost the opportunity to achieve the "American dream," we are at risk for a revolution. I only heard the last half of the show, but others were disagreeing with him, while one caller pointed out that America was becoming like Mexico or Russia -- poor or rich with no middle class.

This is sort of one of my hot-button issues. I know exactly why working class U.S. citizens are not able to achieve the dream. It's because no one considers themselves middle class. Or rather -- no one lives as they are working class/middle class. $100 cable/dish TV, $75 a month cell phone plans, a new car every two or three years, lunch out every day at work and dinner out on the weekends. If someone else (who might make $20,000 a year more than they do) can afford a new car, then it's "not fair" for them not to be able to have one too. And cable? And cell phones with all the bells and whistles? Those are necessities, not something that one could cut out of a tight budget. . . .

In our grandparents' day, those who were striving for the dream -- buying a house, or a bigger house, or a nicer house -- did without luxuries. Today there are no luxuries.

I am fortunate that because of Terry's chosen profession, we have made a good living the last several years. But in the first few years we were married, we made less than most other dual-earning college graduates, and we still lived within it.

The truth is to get ahead, there are sacrifices that one has to make. Sometimes one has gotta give up some of the high life right now to secure that future that they are dreaming about. We can't have it all.

You may disagree with me, but that's what I love about talk radio. It gets me thinking -- sometimes, like in this case, about something that I never even had thought to ponder -- a revolution of the middle class.

EDITED: There's quite a discussion going on in the comments, and I'm trying to respond there. Please read that part of the story as well, and chime in with your own thoughts.

*My dear bloggy friend Dawn just started a new weekly Wednesday feature where she will share or respond to some of the interesting stories on NPR. I've linked to her first one right there. She just finished out a Wednesday series where she analyzed each one of the Bare-Naked Ladies' albums. Even if you aren't the biggest BNL fan of all time (that goes to Dawn), you should check out her Snack Time post, where she profiles their children's CD.


Kimberly/Mom in the City said...

I agree with you that as a society, we have "entitlement" issues. Everyone thinks that they deserve what they want - NOT what they sacrifice and work hard for. That is so NOT true.

At the same time, I do think that there has become a greater divide over the last decade or so for some. Hard work and sacrifice are essential for all but if there are little to no job opportunities in certain communities, then that principle hits a roadblock.

morninglight mama said...

Yeah, we are a bit guilty of living a bit beyond our means, but it's so hard to live in a community and among your peers and sacrifice everything, you know? So, we do have the satellite and DVR for a little treat... :)

Thanks for the bloggy shout-out, too! Isn't NPR just grand?? (And BNL, too, but I think my position on them is already pretty clear, right?)

planetnomad said...

oooh preach it! I consider myself middle class, yet I always feel poorer than those around me (when I'm in the US that is) because I'm not always at the mall, picking up cute candles or leggings at Target, popping into Starbucks, etc. But I don't have credit card debt either!

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

I'm not trying to call anyone out or make anyone feel guilty for spending money on some pleasures, even if money is tight. Certainly people with a tight budget can choose to buy lattes or have cable.

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

I could not agree with you more!! In fact, we've started teaching our kids that we are rich. We never worry about having food to eat, or being the right temperature, or having clothes, or being about to have school, or have books to read. That means we're rich.

I'm humbled each time we receive a letter from our 3 Compassion kids. Last Christmas one family used our gift to them to buy a treat for a special Christmas meal. You know what they bought? RICE! In Uganda RICE for their family meal was a treat!! Yeah, that's humbling. And helps remind me that not having the newest mini-van, latest fashionable clothes or eating out every week does NOT make me poor. It just makes me different. And it gives a family in Uganda a special treat for dinner - rice.

Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

I'm right there with you, in total agreement! I admit that I sometimes lean toward feeling like some luxuries are "needs" (i.e., high-speed Internet), I know that if things got really tight, it'd have to go. Much better to live within your means than outside of them.

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Now Katrina's getting personal! I have to admit that high speed internet is one thing that I thought would be very very hard to let go. Although I suppose if we were in dire straights, I could use WIFI at public places and use the computers at the library.

But really -- things have changed SO much. It's hard for us to let go of things, even when it makes good financial sense to cut it out. Think of what they had to do in the Depression!

dianne said...

A little late but chiming in to say, you are so right. I have really been trying to tighten my own belt a little lately, in anticipation of some changes, but it's surprisingly difficult when you don't "have" to live below your means.

I hate (despise) news TV (the talk stuff, I mean) but I could probably handle NPR. Do they podcast - I'll have to check it out. I think some talk does inspire good conversation . . . and more importantly, action.