Can you imagine yourself standing in line in hope for a cot at a shelter to share with your family, or waiting for a warm meal in a soup kitchen? This is what many middle-class American citizens have succumbed to. Has the American dream been lost, has the middle-class lost its position in the American economy, and has the inequality of income cause the demise of the middle-class?
By focusing on the health care reform and record low unemployment rate we overlook the underlying problem; the dwindling middle-class, the backbone of our country. Many studies have been conducted to define middle-class without much success. It has been attempted to relate it to annual income. One study states that yearly incomes between $32,900 and $64,000, another between $50,800 and $122,000, and the U. S. census bureau middle 60% of incomes is the largest range of all lies between$ 20600, and $102,000 as what defines middle-class.
Dan Horn notes in the Cincinnati Enquirer “Psychologist Ken Eisold, a contributor to Psychology today, said, though, that the way people describe their social status has more to do with what’s going on in their heads than their wallets. ” Eisold goes on to say that “it’s really more about identity”. Horn adds that Julie Heath, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center agrees with Eisold that saying, “We’re a middle-class family has more than a financial connotations to it, it has a salt-of the earth to it. That’s the bed rock. Essentially this shows that Americans do not base their social status on their income alone, but also on their personal accomplishments and views of where they have come from and where they are going. That being said, the bed rock of the middle-class comes from one of the most common descriptions what living in America is all about; the great American Dream. History tells us that this emotion connected with being middle-class started showing up in the 1830’s. In these times people came to America hoping for the best, and they clung to ideas of how they would make it.
They believed that if those ideas and values were kept, that they were middle-class, even if they were not financially. This is how the idea of the Leave it to Beaver life style came into being. In the 1950’s men took white collar jobs while women stayed home and maintained their house and families. They bought homes in the suburbs, nice family cars, and made safe investments. This provided them a sense of stability and many believed this is what the American dream is all about. Today, in pursuit of the dream, to maintain their middle-class status many Americans have higher incomes than their parents did but both parents are working.
Yet while doing the best that they that they can possibly do, many are watching their dreams shatter. Erin Currier, director of the Pew Economic Mobility Project, said “stability is one of the biggest threats to the middle class today. ” She goes on to say, “Though born into middle-class, many fall out by adulthood. ” This is due to inflation of basic needs such as health care, day care, college funding, and the rise of the inequality of income. One term often referred to when relating to the middle-class crisis is Income Gap. As defined on the internet by investapedia. om, the income gap is the unequal distribution of household and individual income across the various participants in an economy.
A sociology and political science professor at the University of Arizona who studies income inequality and poverty, says that over the past three decades “is slow income growth compared to general economic growth… a bigger and bigger portion of economic growth has occurred to the wealthiest 1 %, whether the measure is basic wages or total compensation,” says Lane Kenworthy. (CQ researcher 3) There is political risk involved with this shift that is greater than economics and family finances. A large middle class, especially one that is politically active, tends to be a kind of anchor that keeps our country from swinging back and forth. There are typical values that middle-class families acquire and pass on to their children and those values tend to be good for democracy,” states Teresa Sullivan, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, and the co-author of The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt. (CQ Researcher 2) The new millennium looked very hopeful for the war on poverty in America.
The federal poverty rate was the lowest it had been since 1974 according to CQ Researcher. The next 4 years even better with Housing prices doubling in many cities and increase in home equity loans that brought the Home-ownership rate up to an all time high of 69 percent. In 2008 we would not only see the sand shift out from the false growth of the economy led by the banks and lending companies but our government bail the banks out with $700 billion rescue bill, They did not however bail out the borrower and many lost their homes. Leading to the current middle class crisis.
These issues, the rise of the inequality of income and the shattering of the American dream, have led us to the downfall of the middle class. In more recent years the middle-class are finding themselves not only having a decrease in their income due to layoffs and downsizing, but while not able to maintain their dream are losing their homes due to foreclosures. They are now finding themselves sleeping in their cars, if fortunate to still have one. They are waiting in lines for food and shelter, and bathing in gas station rest rooms, standing on street corners and highway exit’s begging for money or work.
I have a personal interest in this research because I consider myself a middleclass American who lived through these years of the housing crisis and recession, I have lost a business, I am dealing with the short sale of my home and a threat of foreclosure, I have suffered through divorce and currently I am a struggling single mother. In conclusion the decline of the middle-class has hit very close to home. Although the hope of the American dream dies a slow death in my own heart, because of the continual economic status and burden of the cost of living rising, many like me are losing hope.