Who Pays? What Does Being ‘Middle Class” Mean?


What does it mean to be ‘Middle Class’?  Does it mean you are not rich…but not poor? That you can pay your bills and don’t have more debts than assets?    That you can save money for retirement & can afford 1 vacation a year?

What does it mean when  journalists and reporters talk about the middle class…here and in other countries?

When I was in graduate school, over 20 years ago, I was shocked to learn that being considered middle class was actually based on your level of education.  Not your  income!  It had nothing to do with how much money you had.  Your level of education actually gives you some social/economic mobility.  That’s the important thing.

I had thought it meant  living in a house with electricity, running water, and  a phone. Also, having good health or access to healthy care.  Apparently, it doesn’t.  Nor does it have anything to do with the amount of debt you carry—-witness the many college students graduating  and carrying well over $50,000 in debt!

When I was in India, I was invited to the home (well, actually, the apartment, on the fifth floor of a walk-up) of a middle class couple. The husband and wife both had masters degrees, but no car, no refrigerator. That means they had to shop for groceries every day.  They DID have a TV…but heck:  I was  working in a squatter community where people didn’t have running water, but many households had TVs. You see, the men folk like to watch the cricket & ‘football’ matches…so owning a TV is more important than owning a refrigerator. I could only think , They both have masters degrees, and this is the best they can do?  500 square feet on the fifth floor, no air conditioning, no refrigerator?

I learned, as an undergraduate, some of the indicators that a nation was developing towards a middle class tax base.  They had to have a literate populace (in the 1970’s, Tanzania had a literacy rate of over  90%).  Most households had to have access to communications infrastructure.  They had to have access to at least primary health care.

The theory is…that if people have their basic needs met, they have the  social and economic mobility to create wealth, and a tax base that supports infrastructure that in turn—supports more  economic development. What a great theory.  Matter of fact, it is what all governments are based on!

Unfortunately, for us 99%, none of the economic theorists ever addressed what would happen if the overseers of our government infrastructure—our politicians—spent more than we took in:  on wars, toys, vacations, perks, PENSION PLANS for themselves that are better than Social Security.  & if we 99% had to pay more of a per centage of our incomes in taxes to support  such frivolity than we could save or spend on our own pursuits we would no longer be…middle class. Oh, wait, …it works ok in  the Scandinavian countries. Oh, right—they aren’t supporting wars, and corruption….

So…what do we do?  If we were smart, we would tax the rich.  In fact, the rich would either tax themselves, or get rid of the rascal politicians & get a new set of rascals—because the funny thing is….if  there is no middle class to buy what the rich sell…..there aren’t any rich, either. There is a limit to (economic) growth.

We are now, in the USA, at a terrible crisis. We’ve destroyed the  natural environment, &  are heading towards a population crash.  Too many dimwits have too many children, because they are clueless & this is the way they have always lived. The kids  aren’t learning anything useful in many urban schools, so they become criminals to survive.  Due to our    communications infrastructure, the predators among them can easily corrupt  and destroy naive middle class youth—& they do—with METH.

We really have to get organized to address this.

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