Monday, September 6, 2010

"The Middle Class Squeeze" - How Much Longer Can Working Families Survive?

Family BBQ 1952 from
There was a time in this nation's recent history, not even a generation ago, when a household income that included two working class salaries could easily buy a modest home, send a kid or two to college, go on a yearly vacation and retire comfortably. Those days are gone. Today, if that same couple were lucky enough to buy a home, they probably consider themselves fortunate to be upside-down in their loan. Chances are good that they're still paying off their own student loans, and unable to help their kids through school. And contributing to their retirement plans mean budgeting in $5 a week for the state lottery.

I read a post this Labor Day by a blogpal of mine, Dusty, at her wonderful blog, It's My Right to Be Left of Center. Love her blog. Her post got me thinking about something The Hubby and I have been discussing a lot lately: how much longer can the middle class can exist?

Check out this graph from the Economic Policy Institute:

The top 1% owns 55.6% of the wealth. And that's climbing. Rapidly. What's wrong with this picture? Now take a look at these stats from Joan Williams at Huffington Post:

I don't know about you, but The Hubby and I can't even fathom being a part of that group making $2,000,000 a year...not in our wildest dreams. And when those who are making what's considered an "upper middle class" income can't get out from under their upside-down mortgages, save for retirement or send their kids to college, the American Dream is defunct. How much longer can middle class families like all of us continue to support the lifestyles of the wealthiest 1%? How much longer can we continue to fund the social programs that assist the poverty-stricken? How long can the middle class withstand what I call "the middle squeeze"?

Five years ago, I would have bet that most folks in our position would be out in their backyards barbecuing up some steaks for family and friends. But this Labor Day, we have friends who've homes have been foreclosed by the banks. Most of us who are breaking out the barbecue are grilling burgers and dogs, just for the family. Many of our friends won't have Labor Day off, as businesses squeeze longer hours and growing profits out of working folks who want to keep their jobs, no matter how miserable they may be. And other friends would take those no-benefits positions in a heartbeat, just to be able to work again.

The Bush tax cuts alone should be enough to persuade most people, save for that 1% of which we spoke earlier, to vote for a Dem in the midterms. I'll let Our Gal Rachel explain it...and, Tim Kaine, feel free to take notes:

When you're working hard, and it keeps getting harder to make ends meet, Ezra Klein's graph makes it pretty clear who is getting squeezed. That big red dot just keeps expanding, shifting the tax burden for all government services onto the working families of America. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class gets smaller and smaller. Labor Day, the holiday set aside to celebrate and honor the American worker and the work ethic we once valued in this country, becomes a work of fiction for more and more families...while corporations gain citizenship and the top 1% continue to accrue their fortunes.

See, in a nutshell, that's why I'm a Democrat. Not because I believe in some socialist redredistribution of wealth, but because I believe in the American Dream. I believe that hard work should pay off, that providing my kids a good education should be within my reach, and that every family should be able to achieve home ownership. I believe in "noblesse oblige," the idea that to those whom much is given, much is expected - and that it applies to all of us, whether we donate our volunteer time or whether the Gettys build their museums for the populace. But the new 1% doesn't care about extending unemployment, the housing crisis or giving anything back to anyone but their own (and you can forget about an inheritance tax, too, while we're at it). Now it's time for the legislature and The President to stand up to rulings like Citizens United, to take those among our ranks who support the GOP and use that LBJ arm-twisting to get them on board to support the planks in our party's platform and to apply fiscal and political consequences if they don't. And if they do that, get back to the reasons we're Democrats, the reasons we're liberals, then the midterms won't be a worry. And maybe, just maybe, the middle class and the American Dream can still stand a fighting chance.