View Full Version : Middle class America?

08-10-2008, 08:03 AM
I keep hearing people say there is no middle class America anymore. Just a upper middle class, and a lower middle class. I remember as a young man starting out in the work force. The majority of americans where considered middle class.

What has happened? I still feel there is a middle class, but for every person who steps up a notch on the scale it drops another person down one. Does any one else agree, and what is your input on the subject?

08-10-2008, 10:40 AM
I read somewhere that the average walmart shopper has an average household income of $40k. Pretty scary if thats true.

Steve B
08-10-2008, 11:12 AM
Why would that be scary Bill?

08-10-2008, 01:42 PM
I think the definition of middle class has changed. It used to be the American Dream was a nice house in the suburbs, two cars and a steady job. In today's world, the Dream can be different for different people. Plus I think we have a lot more access today to seeing and understanding how the very wealthy live. It's hard to think of yourself as middle class when you know other people are running about buying jets and islands and things.

08-10-2008, 02:41 PM
Well with some rounding that is $20 per hour combined income ie ms johnson makes$10 and mr johnson makes $10. That's 3.3k or so per month. subtract 1k for rent, 800 for food, 600 for car payments (2 cars since there are two working adults), 150 for gas and you have 780 left at the end of the month. Thats not to mention incidentals. How will these people ever pay for their kids college?

An observation on education: Most of my friends over the years have a college education. One friend dropped out of school in the 8th grade to sell vacuum cleaners. He ended up as vp of sales for a very large company. I know someone who had some education, but defected in the Olympics in the 70's only to become the president of a company. I took education for granted.

I went through some hard times starting in 2000. I ended up moving to an apartment complex in an area of Florida that has about 350k people in the county. The thing that I find really strange about this area is there are no business office centers. Most towns, you drive down the road and there is this business and that business. Buildings where people who are self employed and want an office or a shared secetary. Here there is retail, wherehousing, doctors offices, zero high tech or professional people.

The apartment complex I moved into was nice. I think there were a lot of people with blue collar types of jobs there. The guy above me was a truck driver and probably made a good living.

What really struck me, though, was the lack of social skills. I'm the sort of guy who when someone new moves in next door, when you see them you introduce yourself "hi I'm Bill" etc. What I encountered there and in this entire community in general is the opposite. People walking by you would avoid making eye contact to say hello, take the long way around cars etc. It got to the point where I made a game out of making my neighbor say hello. I would time walking by her so she had to respond to my hello with a hello. This was true of the entire complex and the entire area.

Now go 5 miles to the beach, the people are wealthy and educated and its a different story.

The conclusion I have drawn after 5 or so years here is that education affects social skills as well as learning skills etc. I don't use any of the calculus I learned in college, but it taught me to learn and socialize. It also taught me to drink beer but thats a different story. ]

How is a family making 40k going to put their kids through college. If they can't, I see either a slide downhill for the country or a bigger separation of the rich and poor.

As a footnote. My wife and I are a mixed couple. She's Latina and I'm your basic gringo. Living in South Florida; Miami and north, we never got a second look. Here, you can see holes being drilled in you from people staring at you. You really have to be there to understand prejudice. If we were in Texas, California, Arizona, that wouldn't happen at all. I attribute this to education as well. It's unrelated to what I said above though.

08-10-2008, 02:44 PM
I have often said the middle class should be on the endangered species list. Although this is true, I also believe we are seeing a transition, not necessarily a cessation. The jobs that created middle class are quickly becoming more rare, and those losing the "good jobs" are finding they can't easily replace those. However, there is always starting a business, and I see that rising.

It really shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Before the industial age, most people were self employed. It may have been farming or running a general store, but they didn't work for large corporations. Large corporations are here to stay, but I think we will see a return to many people running some type of small business. The Internet helps level the playing field if one just does enough research to avoid getting hooked by a scam.

08-10-2008, 09:33 PM
I've never really understood what middle class was. I figured it must be some kind of average.

Well, we still have average. Average will always exist.

08-10-2008, 09:46 PM
LOL, Spider. I can't top that.

Oh, wait, there was a bumper sticker, but I didn't create it. It says, "Remember, half the people you know are below average."

Dan Furman
08-10-2008, 11:05 PM
I mentioned this in a post on the other forum, but I'm of the opinion that the middle class is largely artificial and not sustainable.

Before WW2, there generally was no middle class - you were (in general terms) either well off, or you were poor. There was no huge middle (most were poor). Then after WW2, three things happened: The Baby Boom (lots of people), The GI Bill (easy, affordable housing in the suburbs), and the fact that we were (essentially) the only manufacturer with factories still standing (which meant good paying jobs for all those people in their new houses - in fact they were good paying jobs for fairly average skill levels, which never really happened before.)

So the middle class thrived for years. Then (IMHO) two additional things happened:

1) Like a poster already mentioned, our concept of middle class has risen. Dramatically, really. For example, things like cable TV, cell phones, DVD players, multiple after school activities for everyone, 19 X-Mas gifts for everyone... these are things that everyone kind of expects to have, yet they are way beyond a 1950's middle class lifestyle.

2) Remember those good jobs I mentioned? Where we paid premium wages for somewhat average skills? They're gone. And it's not just blue collar jobs - with the advent of worldwide competition, even white collar workers of average skill are in trouble. To make exceptional money these days, you have to have exceptional skills. Which most people simply don't have. So we have MORE stuff, with LESS pay. That doesn't work (so hello home equity and credit cards!)

The problem (and where the "war on the middle class" stuff comes from) is that we don't want to go backwards. Nobody wants to give up their big car, their cell phone, their thermostat on 78 degrees in winter... but we're getting to the point where many are going to have to. We financed the good life on credit for about 20 years, and it's kind of over.

I'm an optimist in terms of business and talking to people or small groups (I want everyone to succeed and do well), but I'm a HUGE pessimist in regards to the macro level. For example, I feel the average person really isn't very skilled, and doesn't bring much to the table. Well, given that, I question why that person should somehow just expect the good life (which they do).

In my view, we will once again go back to well off, and poor. And in free enterprise (even our version of it), that's probably the way it's supposed to be.

Don't mean to be a downer, but that's how I see it :)

08-11-2008, 05:54 PM
I don't look on that as being a downer, Dan. In fact, it seems to be to be quite a challenge. If there are only going to be two categories from now on, it's much easier for people to know which group they want to be in.

Dan Furman
08-11-2008, 11:38 PM
I don't look on that as being a downer, Dan. In fact, it seems to be to be quite a challenge. If there are only going to be two categories from now on, it's much easier for people to know which group they want to be in.

Indeed. I know exactly which side I'm aiming for :)