Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Middle Class

That is where we want to be, huh?  Live in a "regular neighborhood" and have a $675,000 dollar house like Marco Rubio?  In the "old days", the fifties and sixties, early seventies even, all wages were within twenty dollars of each other.  I remember when I bought my house in 1970.  I paid $8,375 for it and was working seasonally at the local cannery earning $1.90 per hour.  The good jobs in our little town were at the lumber mills where my cousin worked.  I think he made five or six dollars per hour.  An electrician or plumber, workers at the top of the trades might be making seven to ten dollars per hour. A CEO of a top corporation could earn six times the average wage of his workers.  Six time two, or six time five or even six time ten, as much as sixty dollars an hour!
   Wages have changed a little bit, to $7.25, the Federal Minimum Wage, over $9.00 in Oregon, about five times as much as when I bought my house.  If everything had floated evenly, a young couple struggling on minimum wage should still be able to buy a house, at least a fixer upper starter house. So, five times my house cost would be about $45,000.  Clearly inflation doesn't float evenly. Wages have gone up five times while housing has gone up 15 times!  Some CEO's make $35,000 PER DAY!
   It is difficult to keep abreast of inflation.  Retired people on fixed incomes no longer take the newspapers, have stopped cable television, decide on buying food or medicine.
We have a brand new category now:  The working poor.  Some big businesses love this class, most workers at Walmart are able to collect food stamps and public assistance because Walmart doesn't pay them enough.  Another way to think of this is the Taxpayer is subsidizing the wages of those who work at minimum wage.  I like private enterprise,  don't get me wrong, I am just not too keen on subsidizing it.
    I have my new roof on!  It really needed it, a couple sheets of sheeting had to be replaced because of rot.  It wouldn't have lasted much longer.  I delayed it as long as possible because of the money and also I kept telling myself that I would continue to get stronger and be able to do it myself.  Well, I outlived that denial and hired it done.  I live in an older neighborhood and am conscious of roofs now.
These are houses built in the 40's 50's and 60's mostly on much bigger lots than today's houses. Mine is a third of an acre in the middle of the city, room for my house, my shop, garden and studio.  It is a working neighborhood where working people and retired people live.
   I see the occasional "Blue Tarp" here and there, moss covering the shingles and missing shingles and realize that my neighborhood has become poor.  We are the "old middle class" and have run out of money.  I wonder if my little neighborhood is a microcosm of the USA?
   I have no answers, no solutions.  It is difficult enough to try to understand the problem.  But my thought are pretty simple.  We sometimes long for the heydays of the 50's, 60's and 70's but fail to remember that then most wages were within $20 of each other and the very few who made tons of money were subjected to a progressive income tax.  Then you paid 90% tax on money over a million bucks!
   As an X school teacher I know that goals have to be made reachable and it helps to speak the same language.  When Marco Rubio with his $675,000 dollar house talks about his Middle Class Neighborhood, I wonder what planet he is from.  Who gets the moss off his roof and at what wages?
   Are YOU Middle Class?  What does that mean?   


Optimistic Existentialist said...

"Middle Class" is such a subjective term. Some people believe that middle class is a family earning 60K a year while same think it's a family making 500K. I won't pretend to know the answer...but I cannot bring myself to think of a family making 500K a year as middle class.

Barbra Joan said...

I think when I was 15 years old my family was considered middle class.
We lived ina middle class neighborhood, my dad was a welder and after years at the shipyard, he opened his own welding business, bought a middle class home, in a middle class neighborhood, got a new car every 2 years, took mom to Florida for 3 weeks every year.
Hmmmmm ! now ? I'm considered poor.. yes, poor. Not middle class poor, not poverty stricken poor ... Just plain old poor.
Oh wait, maybe that's lower middle class poor..

Graciewilde said...

Fascinating and , yes, confusing stuff -- I grew up in the working class. My dad was a steelworker who raised 9 kids on a paltry salary . I believe the folks paid $8,000 for the 1/2 acre parcel with a ramshackle 1900 era house - this in 1953 SoCal.
Now I am a public school counselor married to a retired public school teacher- we each bought a house in the mid 1970's in "Silicon Valley" and that is the only thing that saved us financially. We were able to sell both houses in mid 1980's (when we were married) and that allowed us to purchase a house north of SF. But, we still live simply and have little discretionary income (that is partly b/c we are still paying on student loans to help our kids get through college). I would say we are firm middle class but going downhill as we age. oh joy