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What is the middle class?
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Sam



Joined: 09 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2012 2:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

middle class as a socioeconomic entity should have no bearing on what a democratic society 'should' offer it in terms of representation, it merely exists to describe a measurable set of falsifiable patterns and traits dividing people based on socioeconomic realities.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 12:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lots of reading here:

Quote:
The decline of the middle class has become a focal point of this year's presidential election. Each candidate claims their plan would put an end to the middle-income slide that accelerated during the Great Recession and still shows no signs of abating.

But lost in the rhetoric about the decline of the middle class is the reality of the decline. Nearly everyone is aware that the middle class is struggling, but few understand how the struggle plays out in everyday life.

[In Pictures: 10 Signs American Families Are Falling Behind.]

According to experts, the decline is fundamentally reshaping the U.S. economy. The Great Recession has affected the way the middle class feels about higher education, government, and the future. Even their health has suffered as a result of the decline.

"Their economic future isn't very bright," says Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. "Wages and income are flat. Transportation, childcare costs, and healthcare costs are going up, and your income isn't."

Smeeding calls the current state of the middle class "the squeeze." Even people who have jobs are being forced to squeeze more and more out of their income, despite the fact that incomes aren't growing. "These people live on earnings. They're working on not great wages and their jobs are threatened," he says. "They don't see any hope in the future of things getting better."

By the numbers: Hard numbers paint a stark picture of the middle-class decline. According to an August 2012 Pew Research Center report, only half of American households are middle-income, down from 61 percent in the 1970s. In addition, median middle-class income decreased by 5 percent in the last decade, while total wealth dropped 28 percent. According to the Economic Policy Institute, households in the wealthiest 1 percent of the U.S. population now have 288 times the amount of wealth of the average middle-class American family.

The income decline has caused many people to accumulate high levels of debt. And as the cost of college increases, more people are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans after they graduate.

Only 23 percent of people were confident they had enough money to get them through retirement, according to the Pew report. It also found that fewer people believe hard work will get them ahead in life.

[Read: Where Do You Fall in the American Economic Class System?]

"You have far less disposable income and increasing levels of debt," says David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress. "You have this fundamental squeeze on most members of the middle class. It's impacting their quality of life and their outlook for the future."

Behind the numbers. These are the kind of statistics used by politicians to sell policies, but they tell little about the realities behind the numbers--or how the decline of the middle class plays out in people's everyday lives.

More and more middle-income families are turning to government programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance. According to a recent Senate Budget Committee Report, "Among the major means tested welfare programs, since 2000 Medicaid has increased from 34 million people to 54 million in 2011 and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) from 17 million to 45 million in 2011. Spending on food stamps alone is projected to reach $800 billion over the next decade."

People are also saving less. Wage increases have not kept up with increases in the cost of living, forcing people to dig deeper into their savings to make ends meet. Meanwhile, many middle-class workers who lost their jobs during the recession remain unemployed.

"The most pressing worry is the diminished economic security of middle-class families. The long-term unemployed have completely drained their savings," says Kristen Lewis, co-director of Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council that explores the distribution of opportunity and well-being in the United States. "Those who are working have jobs without healthcare or sick leave. They have no retirement savings plan. There's no end in sight to that."

[Read: The Real Source of Middle-Class Money Woes.]

Lewis adds that the economic state of the middle class takes its toll on their health. A series of recent reports found that life expectancy for whites without a high school diploma--once the backbone of the middle class--has dropped faster than for other groups. The reports linked the decline in large part to the lack of access to healthcare.

Can the middle class come back? According to Lewis, current economic and political conditions won't provide the middle class with the same security it needed to rebound in the years following World War II. "In the post-war period, there were a lot of programs put in place to help people," such as education and homeownership assistance, says Lewis.

Madland says increasing the minimum wage and improving entitlement programs like Social Security are key to rebuilding the middle class. "[After the Great Depression], we made major policy changes to ensure we have a strong middle class. We let too much of it wither on the vine," he says. "We need something approaching that kind of effort."

But for Wisconsin's Smeeding, one thing has to happen before these policy changes can occur: "We have to get the economy growing again."

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Kenshiro



Joined: 04 Oct 2012
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 7:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the fact that we need to have this conversation at all is a problem, and I can't help but think that part of that is that a progressive taxation system inherently encourages class warfare more than a flat tax system or the FairTax would. Don't get me wrong - class warfare would exist anyway, and progressive taxation helps the poor way more than a flat tax would, that's indesputable - but whenever you break a bunch of people into groups, Team Psychology always sets in, and I really don't like the idea of our tax system being set up to support that, even if unintentionally.
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Dogen



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really don't think that issue is surmountable via changes to the tax code. If your tax policy takes more from the rich than the poor then the rich feel mistreated. If you take the same from everyone, which means making the poor poorer and the rich richer, then you're quite literally victimizing the poor to support the rich. Either way, you pit the benefits of one class against those of another. The question is which is better able to absorb the hit to their income... and the answer seems relatively obvious.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm pretty sure average wages virtually going up nil (and actually going down when adjusted for inflation) has WAY more to do with this than any taxation issue.
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Lasairfiona



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Apparently no one knows what class they are in - if it is a made up thing, everyone can claim membership. In fact most people do claim middle class and complain that they are beleaguered by too many taxes. If even people who make $250k are going to bitch about high taxes, how can we convince people that they should be paying taxes at their income level?

What I am saying is that this class warfare is bullshit until people can split up the "class" groups into groups that are actually getting the short end of the stick and those actually getting more than they should (based on _not_ a flat tax of course). While we still have this muddy definition of middle class that includes both the haves and have-nots, class warfare in America means precisely dick.

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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I remember someone posting links a while back to the effect that Americans have this unique problem where those that are in the "working class" really do not want to be considered "working class" and instead self-identify as middle class. And as we've seen here, those in the lower rungs of the upper class also tend to classify themselves as middle class.
It's not just a self-identification that's mucking up things. The super-rich as a whole are demonstrably out of touch with the world below them. This is becoming more pronounced as the gap between rich (especially super-rich) and poor widens and the real, meaningful "middle class" is eroded away from below while losing opportunities for advancement and upward mobility.
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Kenshiro



Joined: 04 Oct 2012
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dogen: fair point.

On a slightly different focus point:

Some food for thought.
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Mindslicer



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

People 'getting more than they should'? Who decides how much people should get?
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Dogen



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In reality, politicians.

Philosophically, we each play a role in deciding how to define fair. Is everyone paying the same rate fair if it means more people are pushed into poverty? Or is it more fair to take none from some, some from many, and much from a few if it means more people are secure in their homes and meals? Is fairness simply about how much we take, or the opportunities available, or how well we eat, or? ... We talk about fairness because it's easy to define in ways that benefit whatever position we hold, when really it's an arbitrarily defined term over which no one has dominion.

But we all know that. It's just easier to pretend the situation is simple and has an obvious answer... Well, simpler for politicians.
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Him



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2012 12:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WheelsOfConfusion wrote:
I remember someone posting links a while back to the effect that Americans have this unique problem where those that are in the "working class" really do not want to be considered "working class" and instead self-identify as middle class. And as we've seen here, those in the lower rungs of the upper class also tend to classify themselves as middle class.
It's not just a self-identification that's mucking up things. The super-rich as a whole are demonstrably out of touch with the world below them. This is becoming more pronounced as the gap between rich (especially super-rich) and poor widens and the real, meaningful "middle class" is eroded away from below while losing opportunities for advancement and upward mobility.

Well, that's because there is no inherent contradiction in "middle class", because it's such an ambiguous term. In reality, being both "middle class" and working class are the most likely option. This is actually part of what's problematic with the 99% versus 1% rhetoric as well, even though in a way it's brought the issue of class back into the discussion.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2012 1:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ya know, this discussion reminds me of illusory superiority, and all of it's many wonderful sub facets. I mean, isn't that really the issue behind why people misreport/inaccurately view their own social status and wealth. Also, isn't this exacerbated by the false-consensus effect?

Yes, I have been perusing wiki's list of cognitive biases, although it has been renamed to "List of biases in judgment and decision making". Hey you psych guys, is this new name better or not?
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