The other day, The New York Times released a collection of first-person testimonials, entitled “What Middle-Class Families Want Politicians to Know.” There was a hiccup though: Nearly everyone included in the piece was making over six figures. In a country where half of all households make less than $60,000 a year, it was an odd way to define “middle class.” This certainly tells us something about the socioeconomic blinders of the Times. But there is another worthwhile lesson about the nature of American inequality buried in the episode.

The term “middle class” has always been one of the watchwords in American politics. Look no further than “Middle-class Joe.” But a lot of times when it’s cited, the implied definition seems to be more experiential than statistical: A sense that what you have is good, but that you also struggle; what you have isn’t secure, and if you start falling there just won’t be any bottom. If we define “middle class” in this way, it suggests the Times interviewees — if still not representing the median “middle-class” person — arguably should be included under the umbrella.

Consider Jessica Wang, whose family makes $150,000 a year in San Francisco: “We cannot buy a home here, our cars are both over 10 years old, and we don’t eat out more than a couple of times per month. We have a college fund for our son, but no real savings.” Or the Dunhams of Minnesota, who make between $200,000 and $400,000, but also live under mountains of debt and work brutal hours: “Each of us lives in constant terror of falling asleep in a chair or behind the wheel or at the operating table and causing harm to someone or having something awful happen to our children because we couldn’t stay awake.”

Making $150,000 to $200,000 a year will put you squarely in the top 5 percent of American wage-earners. But even the fairly good wage growth for that cohort is dwarfed by the gains of the top 1 percent in recent years. As MSNBC host Chris Hayes once noted, this inequality is fractal: the 0.1 percent is way out ahead of the 1 percent, the 0.01 percent is way out ahead of the 0.1 percent, and so forth.

By some metrics, wealth inequality is even worse, with the top 1 percent hoarding an even greater share of the country’s net assets than of its income. Certainly, the top 5 or top 10 percent have a lot of the wealth too. But as Rebecca Rosen once pointed out in The Atlantic, most of this wealth is tied up in housing and savings for education. Thanks to wage stagnation and rising costs of living, there is a savings crisis throughout the country, including many people way up the income ladder.

Needs like housing and education are all yoked together. The country is not only becoming more unequal, the number of places …read more

Source:: The Week – Business


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Are people who make $200k middle class?

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