The Vanishing Middle Class

It used to be that being middle class meant owning your own home.  It meant that you could afford medical care and dental care.  It meant you had a college fund for your children and were able to set money aside for retirement.  It meant that all your family's expenses could be covered with only one spouse working outside the home.  This is Michael Berger with SolutionsFor, let's continue.

The reason it used to be that you could cover your expenses is because you could earn a living wage even if you only had an entry level job like working the front desk of a hotel.  If you had a college degree and a good job you might not even bother with a mortgage, choosing instead just to save up for a few years and purchase a house outright.

But as time went on it became increasingly difficult to become a first-time homeowner.  Buying a home became something that often required you to choose between taking out a 15 or 20 year mortgage or for both you and your spouse to work outside the home.  Corporations capitalized on the feminist movement, effectively doubling their profits over the course of a couple decades.

Once women were fully assimilated into the workforce, both a woman and her husband had to work full-time to maintain the same living standard as they had before with only one of them in the workforce.  It wasn't long before 30 year mortgages became the new normal.

Whereas before, a single woman could easily cover her expenses, over time it started becoming more and more common for women to stay in toxic or abusive relationships because they could no longer afford to live alone.

Conveniently for corporations, feminism has managed to direct 100% of the outrage over these types of living situations towards abusive men, meanwhile predatory corporations take 0% of the blame.  While the man is 100% responsible for his abusive behavior, corporations are at least somewhat responsible for keeping the woman in the abusive environment; they are the ones who are putting their employees in a position of weakness when they pay them a part-time salary for full-time work.  Of course there also are men who are stuck with toxic women because they too only receive part-time pay for full-time work.  In the Hunger Games type society in which we live, most arguments that couples have are over money.

Over time as wages began to lag further and further behind the cost of living, the definition of what it meant to be middle class gradually shifted.  Whereas being middle class used to mean owning your own home outright, it came to mean being able to make mortgage payments while still saving for retirement.  And the meaning of the phrase "middle class" would continue to degrade as time went on.

As the cost of college and the cost of medical care skyrocketed in the 80's and 90's, fewer and fewer people could come up with a down payment for a home and decided to rent. (In the past you had to put down a higher down payment to buy a house than today and rents were much lower).  This was back when people could easily cover their rent with what they earned the first week of every month.  Since more and more working class people no longer owned the homes that they lived in, the pride of car ownership became the new thing.  Car payments were rare in those days and most people owned their cars outright.  It was common for people to have both a newer daily driver as well as a classic car to take to shows and cruises.  Back then a full-time worker could afford to maintain two cars, no problem.  Although they were renters and technically no longer part of the middle class, they still maintained a mostly middle class lifestyle, with things like college funds and retirement savings.  They could also afford to visit their doctor and their dentist.

After the financial crisis of 2008 the term "middle class" lost even more of it's meaning.  New car ownership became more and more out of reach and more and more Americans had to rely on financing for cars.  Often they could only afford one car, a daily driver, something that, although reliable, was uninspired and uninspiring.  With the recent invention of the iPhone, the pride of cellphone ownership became the new thing.  Although your car may have been financed or leased; although you no longer had sufficient retirement savings or a college fund for your children, although you were either renting or decades away from pay off a mortgage; you could still be considered middle class as long as you could keep up appearances and always owned the latest iPhone.

Today as we go into the year 2022, being middle class in America no longer has anything to do with the American dream of home ownership.  Today being middle class has come to mean that you not homeless, that you don't need to use the laundry mat because you have a washer and dryer at home, that you are not on government assistance, or that you don't live in a trailer park.

Today children and teenagers have a strong, almost pathological desire to have the latest cell phone.  This has nothing to do with calling or texting features, nor does it have anything to do with battery life or screen size.  It has nothing to do with any deficiency in any older phone, or any less expensive phones.  It's about showing other children that they are not poor, that they are part of the middle class.  It's about them being able to say, "I'm not poor, I have a brand new iPhone 13 promax, never mind that it won't be paid off for a couple of years, I'm still part of the middle class.  I identify as middle class".

Cellphone manufactures have caught on to this trend and prices for these Chinese phones have gone through the roof.  Instead of becoming less expensive over time like other computers, in the decade and a half since the iPhone was introduced, the price has more than doubled.  With an initial price of $600 one would have assumed that 15 years later the cost of a new iPhone would be closer to the $300 range than the $1,200 dollar range.  $1,200, $1,400, $1,600, it doesn't matter what it costs, either you find a way to afford it, or you're no longer middle class.

Anyway, in summary, over the course of a few short decades American society has gone from the pride of home ownership, to the pride of car ownership, to the pride of cellphone ownership.  It used to be that when you walked out your front door most of the houses and newer cars that you saw were owned by your neighbors.  Now the majority of houses and newer cars you see are owned by the bank, and your neighbors are in a titanic struggle to keep up with the minimum payments.  Oh, by the way, only about half of American cell phone owners own their cellphone outright, the other half are on a payment plan.  No doubt but that we are in a sad state of affairs.

Now I could understand this gradual transition from the American dream to the hellish nightmare of today if a some things had been, uninvented, during these last few decades.  For example: if the assembly line had been uninvented and each worker was simply no longer able to be as productive as they were in say, 1960, then I could understand that people would not be able to maintain the same level of living as they did back then.  Whereas back then a worker at an entry level job could easily save up for a new car in a few months, with the uninvention of the assembly line, with cars now taking much longer to assemble, it would make sense that new cars would be much more expensive relative to wages, and that someone earning minimum wage could no longer afford a new car without a car loan.

The same would be true for example had electricity been uninvented.  There was a TV series called "Revolution" that aired a few years ago where all electrical devices in the world mysteriously turned off all at once and could not be turned back on.  If all electrical devices just suddenly ceased to function then people would have to work a lot more for a lot less.  Of course a man in 1960 could easily support a family working an entry level job at an electrified workplace.  Today however, after the uninvention of electricity, it's understandable that couples can barely make ends meet even with both of them in the workforce.

Of course in reality no technology used in manufacturing has ever been uninvented.  Therefore there should be no reason that a full-time worker today, would have to have a car payment, or struggle to cover their housing costs.  I mean if an entry level wage allowed one person to provide for a family in 1960 then an entry level wage in 2022 ought to do the same thing, right?

Of course there is a flaw in my logic.  There's a flaw because, although nothing has been uninvented since 1960, there are a lot of things that have been invented.  According to the United States government Bureau of Labor Statistics the productivity of the average worker has more than doubled since 1960.  All of this increased productivity is due to technology however because we also work at a more frantic pace than people did in 1960.

If a worker in 1960 could cover their expenses and those of their spouse and children by working full time, then you should be able to cover all your and your family's expenses with a part-time entry-level job, 20 hours a week.  Can you do that?  No you can't can you?  And remember, everything I'm basing this on is admitted numbers from official sources.

Here's another way to look at it: Instead of one spouse working outside the home full-time, 40 hours, as was the norm in the past, the modern equivalent income would more likely be earned by two wage earners working 20 hours a week.  For example, if a woman and her boyfriend who live together are both working 20 hours a week, they should be able to easily cover basic living expenses if they are as productive as the average worker was in 1960.  If however they are as productive as the average worker of today, they should be able to easily cover their expenses by each working only 10 hours a week.

If the woman's boyfriend were to hit her one day then she'd simply leave.  Sure it's more economical to share expenses, and perhaps moving out would cause her to have to go from working 10 hours a week to working 15 but so what?  More likely though, she would already have been working 20 hours a week all along rather than 10 because few employers would want to hire someone for only 10 hours a week.  So let's say she was working 20 hours a week and saving half of her income, if so then she would likely continue the same 20 hour a week work schedule after the breakup and just have to lower her savings rate from 50% of her income down to 25%, due to the increased costs of living alone.  Obviously she could afford a hotel until she could line up a rental, and it goes without saying that she would have no problem coming up with the deposit for a rental.

Folks there is no shortage, no lack, there is more than enough money in the system, more than enough wealth.

If couples today work twice as many hours outside the home as they used to and they are also at least twice as productive as they used to be.  This would mean that a couple making entry level wages today should have 4 times the wealth of couples who made entry level wages before.  2 x 2 = 4, that's simple enough right?

And if you want to get more precise about it and look at the exact numbers from the Bureau of labor Statistics then it breaks down as follows:
Since by 1960 some women were already in the workforce women's workforce participation from then to now has only increased by 1/3 or 1.33.  So couples today work only 1.33 more hours outside the home than they used to.  But how much more productive are they? According to the Bureau of labor Statistics worker productivity per hour has increased 3.45 times between 1960 and 2019.  By the way, worker productivity is based on real world production, not on the value of the U.S. dollar.  So instead of 2x2 = 4 we have 1.33 x 3.45 = 4.6.  Couples today are actually 4.6 times more productive than in 1960 and should therefore have 4.6 times the wealth!

No matter how you calculate it most people have more money stolen from them every month than they earn in that month.  Actually we should not use the word earn when talking about pay, we should just say paid, because most people are only paid a tiny fraction of what they earn.  Maybe the next time somebody asks you how much you earn, instead of responding with a number just say "I don't know, but it's a lot more than what I get paid.".  There are of course a select few who receive a lot more every month than what they have earned.  All this can be fixed if you are willing to help form a free society based around the protection of human rights; rights such as the right of a person to receive the fruits of his or her labor.  If not then I imagine things will continue as they are, with the rich becoming richer and the poor continuing to get poorer.  It all comes down to a simple choice: Liberty or Slavery?  I leave it up to you.