Saturday, July 14, 2012

So much talk of "Midddle Class". So little agreement on a definition.

Blogger Charles H Smith @ Of Two Minds has dealt with this definitional thing thoughtfully and often.  It is, at the heart of it, a matter of defining one's terms.  Lots of folks who believe themselves to be middle class are, in fact, in an aspirational (dare we say hallucinated) state.  They strive aggressively for middle class appearance, claim that as their status, yet lack so much of the underpinning that realistically defines it.

Five "threshold" characteristics of membership in the middle class:

1. Meaningful healthcare insurance
2. Significant equity (25%-50%) in a home or other real estate
3. Income/expenses that enable the household to save at least 6% of its income
4. Significant retirement funds: 401Ks, IRAs, income property, etc.
5. The ability to service all debt and expenses over the medium-term if one of the primary household wage-earners lose their job
I would now add a sixth:
6. Reliable vehicles for each wage-earner
Author Chris Sullins suggested adding these additional thresholds:
7. If a household requires government assistance to maintain the family lifestyle, their Middle Class status is in doubt.
8. A percentage of non-paper, non-real estate hard assets such as family heirlooms, precious metals, tools, etc. that can be transferred to the next generation, i.e. generational wealth.
9. Ability to invest in offspring (education, extracurricular clubs/training, etc.).
10. Leisure time devoted to the maintenance of physical/spiritual/mental fitness.
Lagniappe attributes:
11. Community altruism (volunteer time and/or money).
12. Pursuit of continuing education (not net surfing, but some exploration and growth in the real world).
The key point of these thresholds is that propping up a precarious illusion of wealth and security does not qualify as middle class. To qualify as middle class (that is, what was considered middle class a generation or two ago), the household must actually own/control wealth that won't vanish if the investment bubble du jour pops, and won't be wiped out by a medical emergency.
In Chris's phrase, "They should be focusing resources on the next generation and passing on Generational Wealth" as opposed to "keeping up appearances" via aspirational consumption financed with debt.

Only after finishing this did it occur to me that this is Bastille Day.  A day on which class conflict rose to new heights (or. was it a descent to new depths?) Out of the French Revolution came a far-reaching sense that revolt against the hereditary nobility and the stinking monarchy, abetted by the fawning clerical estate would bring about an independent class of citizens, defined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. 

And, ultimately, a middle class.  

1 comment:

Voices Newspaper Blog said...

There is no agreement because talk of a "middle class" is largely used to deflect and obscure.

When the media talks about the middle class, they have divided us -- when we accept that framing, we have divided ourselves.

As the middle class shrinks, we see people trot out different definitions to suit their talking points -- but current economic terrorism isn't really about the middle class.


This nation has never had an honest dialog about this -- the "War on Poverty" is not only an oximoron, but was a total FAIL!

Endless spending on the military-industrial-media complex does more than prop up balance sheets and profits -- Yes, you read that right, the MEDIA is part of this evil multi-national merchants of death -- NBC is owned by major player in MIC and the other 4 multinational corp that own virtually all mainstream media are also tied to MIC

In any case -- falling out of the middle class means ending up in POVERTY and the media, politicians, and many American's won't go there...

So we have shifting definitions of the "middle class" so that we don't talk about what it means to NOT be part of that dwindling group.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.