It’s time to stop saying “middle class”; it does not exist. 0.1 percent of Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, according to Salon.
This statistic may be familiar to most people as a result of Occupy Wall Street. Back in 2011 the Occupy movement swept the world, with copycat protests springing up in cities all around the world, as packs of protesters flooded their local financial districts waving placards and chanting slogans maligning the hated 1 percent and 0.1 percent.
The realities of the disappearing American middle class have now been revealed even more clearly thanks to a startling new statistic: more than half of Americans — 56 percent, to be exact — have less than $1,000 combined in their checking and savings accounts.
This puts the U.S. behind most other industrialized nations. Compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. has “grossly disproportionate poverty rates,” according to Salon.
“According to a brand new survey from Bankrate.com, just 37 percent of Americans have enough savings to pay for a $500 or $1,000 emergency. The other 63 percent would have to resort to measures like cutting back spending in other areas (23 percent), charging to a credit card (15 percent) or borrowing funds from friends and family (15 pecent) in order to meet the cost of the unexpected event.”
Another way to put it is that most Americans are “living paycheck-to-paycheck.” Salon also reports that things have not been this bad for American households since the Great Depression.
“[I]ncome inequality is constantly on the rise. It is at the highest it has been since 1928 — the eve of the Great Depression.”
Almost two-thirds of Americans — 63 percent — do not have enough in their savings for an emergency. If they were faced with an unexpected expense, this group would be forced to borrow money.
“[M]ore people go hungry in the U.S. than do in Poland and the Slovak Republic. Slightly fewer people go hungry in the U.S. than in Estonia. And hunger is much less widespread in the poverty-stricken nations of India and Brazil.”
Articles like this one by LifeHack purport to teach readers how to end up on the right side of the divide (the “rich side”) as the middle class shrinks. The tips are: live below your means; embrace being uncomfortable; work to learn; choose your friends wisely; and, strive to “own the corporate ladder” rather than climbing the corporate ladder.
“You may be considered middle class. You’re not poor, but you’re not rich…yet. The middle class seems to be shrinking, according to the data revealed over the last couple decades. That means you’re going to be less likely to be middle class in the future. You’ll more likely be poor or rich. Which side do you want to be on?”
Critics argue that the U.S. must stop regarding itself as the leader of the world, given its failure to manage its economy such that standards of living are maintained. The popularity of presidential contender Bernie Sanders is attributable in large part to American voters’ dissatisfaction with U.S. economic management. Following the financial crisis of 2008, Americans watched as the banks were bailed out, then saw the job market crumble and their savings plummet.
“Politicians constantly insist that the U.S. is the putative “leader of the world,” but why does this matter if it does not translate into positive gains for actual working-class citizens? The U.S. may be the most powerful country in the world, economically and militarily speaking, but if this does not bring with it a high standard of living or ensure well-being for citizens, it ultimately does not matter; it simply benefits the rich, and the rich alone.”
What else would happen if the a middle class continued to shrink in size, or if it disappeared altogether? Political scholars like Francis Fukuyama believe that parliamentary democracy would not survive.
In other words, the democracy that America and other developed countries have fought so hard to establish could disappear.
“[T]roubling economic and social trends, if they continue, will both threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.”
Salon is already arguing that there is no middle class anymore. There are the elites, who control businesses, and an exploited working class.
“It is time to admit it: There is no middle class; there is only the working class and the ruling class — the economic elite.”
[Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images]