The middle-class, to hear politicians talk about it, is simultaneously made up of everyone and no one in this great nation of ours, a collective of folks comprised of soccer-moms, NASCAR fans, people who live in the suburbs, union workers, people with kids … it seems that whatever the modestly aspirational lifestyle that was the norm in your youth is how you picture the middle-class today.
But by definition, far fewer of us can be middle-class than we claim. Politicians like Mitt Romney expose their middle-class ignorance in small statements like Romney’s very jumped upon and strangely worded $200-250,000 and less assessment earlier this week comment, but We The People are none too intuitive when it comes to determining our own status and why this matters so gravely in the voting booth.
Because also by definition, far more of us are not yet or slipping from the middle class. As much as we want to embrace the “rugged individualism” or however else we describe shunting the not as well off among us in American society, the truth is that after the sharp economic decline of the 2000s and the reverberating social changes that came with, the middle-class is an ever-shrinking minority among a wide swath of Americans now dealing with job loss, high unemployment, an eternally bloody housing market, tight credit and all the unpleasant social consequences, like a higher number of divorces or separations due to social upheaval.
To wit, you may no longer be middle-class, regardless of your roots or the situation to which you’d become accustomed for much of your life.
A local Nashville blog tackled the issue of what exactly the middle class looks like nowadays, honing in on a comment on the The Atlantic as to what may actually define middle-class in America — and if you are a single-income earner, not a homeowner, parenting alone, or just lack the security you once took for granted, you may no longer be middle-class:
“You should define class by the ability to pay for two new cars, a $1200 mortgage (arbitrary for this comment), private schools (especially if you live in a city), a $3,000 health insurance deductible, and organic/sustainably produced foods. Then assume that most people pay for cable and cell service. Anyone who doesn’t worry about these things is above middle class. Anyone who must make trade-offs among them is in the middle. Anyone who cannot pay for any of these is poor.”
Whatever your definition of middle-class ultimately shakes out as, chances are the number of people you know who fall into it has decreased dramatically in the past decade. Do you feel like you are still a tax-paying, mortgage-having, car-financing member of the middle class?