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Is the “Middle Class” disappearing in America? (1 Viewer)

Jay Taylor

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On the Today Show this morning, Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki were pushing their new book “Why We Want You to be Rich – Two Men – One Message.” They stated that the middle class is disappearing in America and that the poor and the rich are increasing in numbers. They stated that such an occurrence is dangerous for our free society.

I live in Oklahoma, which I believe has an average income and cost of living lower than the average state in the U.S. It doesn’t appear to me that the middle class is disappearing, but then a snapshot of Oklahoma may not reflect what’s happening across the country. What do you think?

(I realize that it will be difficult to keep politics out of this thread but let’s try please.)
 

drobbins

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I think much depends on what defines "Middle Class" The majority of Americans can afford to support themselves and have some money left over for toys. One thing that has changed is that most families do it on 2 incomes where in the past it could be done on one income.
 

mylan

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I think the middle class is most certainly disappearing, like Dave said, two incomes are needed where one was sufficient in the past. I think rising prices for housing and heath care are the main reasons for this trend, coupled with stagnant wages. I read where Americans are spending more on housing now than anytime in the past.
 

Chris Lockwood

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It sounds like something people would say to sell books. I personally wouldn't pay much attention to Kiyosaki, other than on how to sell lots of books.


> I read where Americans are spending more on housing now than anytime in the past.

Well, if housing prices are near an all-time high, that would make sense. It also means they get more when they sell their homes.
 

andrew markworthy

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Um ... as a Brit I'm confused. I thought you guys were always going on about how the USA was free of social class and it was the UK that was hidebound by the class system? Now here you are getting worried about the disappearance of the middle classes. ;)

Okay, be serious, Andrew ... The same thing has been said about the UK for many years - apparently we are now a classless society. Yeh, right. Actually, over here the class values haven't gone as much as changed. Culture, polite manners and education are no longer prized. What impresses above anything else is wealth, no matter how ignobly gained or tastelessly expressed.
 

Jay Taylor

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I believe that our definition of middle class has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. A family living in a tiny three-bedroom, un-air conditioned 1000 sq. ft. home with one car in the garage, one TV set, and kids playing with a football, basketball, roller skates, cap gun and yo-yo is no longer the standard.

Now a middle class family may have a three-bedroom 2,500+ sq. ft. home with central heat and air, two or three car garage, TV in every room, kids with their own cell phone to keep track of them while they are being shuttled to various sporting events and activities while wearing brand name shoes, clothes and backpack while listening to their brand name mp3 player.

If a family today had what a middle class family had fifty years ago they would be considered poor.
 

george kaplan

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Statistically, there's no doubt that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is shrinking, mostly getting to the poorer end. Yes, the details are very definition specific, but you'd have to really define middle class in a bizarre way before you could say it wasn't shrinking.

Perhaps true, but kind of irrelevant. Hell, if a family had what a rich family had 1000 years ago, they'd probably be considered poor (e.g., no indoor plumbing, no air conditioning, no tv, etc.). That's just a fact of modern convenience in society, not a counterargument to the shrinking middle class.
 

Bryan X

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That's kinda the crux of it. I would bet that if you surveyed all Americans and asked them if they were 'middle class' you'd find a overwhelmingly large percentage consider themselves such.
 

RobertR

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If a family today has what a middle class family had fifty years ago, it becomes rather irrelevant that they're labeled "poor". I don't consider income equality to be particularly important as a goal.
 

Chris Lockwood

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> Statistically, there's no doubt that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is shrinking, mostly getting to the poorer end.

* sigh * I guess that's why, just for example, houses are getting bigger all the time and families have lots more "stuff" than ever before.

That sort of argument disregards the fact that people move from poor to middle class & from middle class to rich... it's not the same people in the same group forever (except when they listen too much to the doom & gloomers).

Nobody has said what income range "middle class" is, but I'm sure the dollar amounts keep rising, so income levels that would have been considered rich in the past are now just middle class. In other words, you have to get to a higher income level now to be considered rich.

It's silly to be talking about the disappearance of something that makes up 80% or more of the population. It's like saying gas-powered cars are disappearing, because a few people have other vehicles.
 

Eric_L

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I think that the data needs to be more carefully viewed before a blanket statement can be made about a disappearing middle class. Is that determination made by comparing present to former demographics? (10%/80%/10% poor/middle/affleunt today vs 8%/84%/8%)

If so then there can be more causes than innitially apparent such as increased immigration (tending to be lower) aging workforce (tending to reduce household income after retirement) a large boom of young workers earning less, etc. edit - Single parent households tend to skew poverty rates also.

Often the self-employed are not included in these figures even though they can be some of the highest earners. Then there are the self-employed who under-report earnings. Nevermind that they are breaking the law - there are TONS of them out there.

All these facts can skew the results of any cursory review of the figures and leave it subject to manipulation by whomever is trying to sell books, get votes or just plain scare you.
 

MarkHastings

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I couldn't agree with you more. The reason why it seems like the middle class is disappearing is because the middle class people have enough money to put themselves into massive debt and live WAY beyond their means. They buy everything with a credit card and take out several mortgages to fund their impossible lifestyles because no one wants to live like middle class anymore.

Take my brother for example: He's only been married for a few years and just sold his condo and is expecting a child...He wants to buy a house, but expects to move into a 2,000+ sq. foot home in perfect condition. He's so upset that he can't afford it, but REFUSES to buy a 'starter' home or a 'fixer-upper'. I think this is the feeling of a lot of people. They refuse to live according to what they can afford. Years ago, people saved money and were frugal about expenses. That sure ain't the case anymore.

This is why people bitch about gas prices. They are living SO far beyond their means that they can't handle even $10 more per week. I was at a condo meeting a few months back and people were LIVID that our condo fees went from $100 to $125. Obviously if you can't afford a $25 a month increase, then why are you buying a brand new condo (which these weren't cheap)...That's why people (who are middle class) no longer feel part of the middle class. We all feel poor because we can't afford the extravagant lifestyles we've set up for ourselves.
 

Carlo Medina

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Middle Class disappearing is kind of misleading. There is still a middle class, and most of America resides within it, so no, it's not disappearing.

However, whereas before a single income family could afford a home and to send a kid (or two) to college, it now requires two parents working full time, and a lot of student loans.

So it's about the quality of living, and how many incomes are needed to obtain that quality.

The middle class hasn't disappeared, it's just a heck of a lot harder to stay in the middle class than it was before. And considering that the country is supposedly wealthier now than at any other point in history, that shows that the middle class isn't disappearing, but rather sliding downward, while the upper class really separates itself from the pack. I don't have the exact numbers, but in an econ class I took in the 90s, they said something like the average CEO in 1970 made say 20x what an average worker made. By the mid 90s it was like 200x. Like I said, not exact numbers, but it was a striking difference like that. And it's only gotten worse since the mid-90s.

One theory that history hasn't born out: Trickle Down Economics :D
 

Alex-C

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More than ever before and I mean that, there is a huge focus on living large/living in luxury/dwelling on those with more than you'll ever have/having it all/{fill in your definition}. Everywhere I look in print and media, we are constantly reminded about those in the luxury lifestyle. Our society basically says if you dont live this way, or at least appear to live this way even though its a total farce then you're inadequate.

Values are so far out of whack, its staggering.

Or you could argue, values are right on, and the portrayal of our values is out of whack. Either way, I am physically ill when I see the endless spa treatments, MTV crib stlye house feature, the ultimate home theater, the best chocolate, the top of the line Vegas hotel room, etc. etc.

Dont get me wrong, dont take it the other way, I am all for a totally dialed-in home theater or whatever is your thing, by all means, do what you want, its a free country and I would never assume to tell others what they should or shouldnt do, all I am saying is the focus seems to be always on those with the "best" as if a Hershey's bar wouldn't satsify, you must have Godiva chocolate, no wait, Toblerones are best, ahhh...but have you had Ghiradelli, no ? then you haven't lived ! Let's not forget ......
 

LDfan

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Good question but hard to really answer. Here in Fairfax County, VA (near DC) I read that the county gov't is actually considering changing the county standards for affordable housing assistance to families that now make up to 90k per year. That is crazy that really the sad state of housing prices in this area.

Jeff
 

RobertR

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I get the impression that people are conflating two issues to a certain extent. The first issue is the high cost of living (mostly housing costs), making it more difficult to make ends meet. The second issue is disparities in incomes. I don't see a necessary correlation between the two. How does the fact that, say, Alex Rodriguez makes tens of millions of dollars make me (or anyone else) more impoverished? The same question applies to corporate executives. Why shouldn't someone be rewarded for running a company well? And how does his being well paid make me poorer?
 

george kaplan

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No reason at all, but by that same logic, shouldn't they be punished for running a company poorly? Even the most bungling CEOs make more in one year than most people will make in many years (maybe their whole lifetime), and instances of CEO pay going down when the company doesn't meet targets are as rare as good films made by Ed Wood.
 

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