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The Middle Class is the New Poor

  1. Dec 14, 2007 #1


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    I don't mean quite what you think by that (how could I?). But I've never seen such a raw statement of the current Democratic sales pitch than today when I saw a bumper sticker on a Toyota Highlander that said "I'm too poor to vote Republican." Obviously, there are several ways to take this, but I'm sure the irony of a presumably upper-middle class person considering him/herself "too poor" for anything wasn't lost on hi/er.

    We've discussed this topic before, of course, and as I've said, when it comes to the economy, the Democrats do their best to sell an "us vs them" mentality along with the pessimism that "them" is winning ('The rich get richer while the poor get poorer' myth/lie that Democrats like to tell). Obviously this person buys into it.

    But the fact of the matter is that upwards of 80% of Americans define themseves as "middle class" ( http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004036986_middleclasslocal27m.html ). And though a decent fraction of Democrats buy into the pessimism (see the "What's wrong with the US economy" thread), they don't have much success selling that message to independents and conservatives. Chicken little can only scream that the sky is falling for so long before people get bored with the message and go back to participating in the growing economy.

    So what does that mean for next years' election and the larger political landscape? It means that this is still a socially conservative country. The Democrats control Congress today because Bush is a jackass, not because people buy their ideology. Bush won in 2000 even though people knew then that he was a jackass (just maybe not how much). There was nothing particularly wrong with Gore besides being uninspiring, but he couldn't overcome a slightly weak economy and his own ideology to beat Bush. Next year, the Democrats have to attack the Republican candidate by connecting him to Bush and hope for a recession (odds seem to be about 50/50 for a mild recession next year) - but they won't be able to sell their idology to the majority of Americans.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
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  3. Dec 14, 2007 #2
    Some people are poor in character, poor in taste or perhaps poor in judgement. Though I suppose the politicians have a bit less condesending approach to labeling someone poor other than evaluating their overall wealth and worth. Perhaps limiting my backpocket to emphasize the value of human capital I have to give back to society is quite appeasing, but I can assure you, it wins the hearts and minds.

    Politicians can label one another corrupt or out of touch with society, but I am not surprised the lack of personal attack of income ever comes out. These things are implied but I liked to think that the world is not headed towards a ritualistic show down with Caesar, Napoleon and Hitler.
  4. Dec 15, 2007 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    Since you have leveled a half dozen attacks on "them" democrats, you might you be a little more specific about what and who you mean. Are you saying for example that the Republicans are fiscally conservative?

    When I was a kid, my mother, who considered us to be middle class, was quite shocked to learn that according the bank, we lived in a slum.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2007
  5. Dec 15, 2007 #4
    I wanted to add something that I felt was related above.

    I was watching a presentation recently of a women who just wrote a book on FDR. She claimed that poor people in those days, didn't quite see themselves as poor the way people do today. Rather, in her words, the poor felt that they were hard working people who sometimes did will and other times didn't (in other words, they kind of moved up and down the economic latter). She claimed that one of FDR's strategies was to try and get them more riled up about being poor, and give them more of a class outlook on society.

    I was born in 1985, so I obviously can't comment on the validity of her statements from personal experience. I would say though, it seems that low income people are constantly fed bs about how they should feel upset about their economic position, and that they are being robbed, etc. I especially see this coming from the left, such as politicians and academics.
  6. Dec 15, 2007 #5


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    I think you might be missing the point. Somebody in a Highlander would know they are part of the middle class, so the meaning would be something like "republicans only care about rich people", or at least people who make more money than the person in that vehicle.

    Try to remember factors other than income. If that person also had high medical bills, they would favor socialism. If they had 3 kids and couldn't afford to send all of them to college, they would favor socialism. If they were the leader of a union they would favor socialism. It might not be as simple as them thinking they are part of the lower class, even when they drive a vehicle that cost twice as much as what most people drive.
  7. Dec 15, 2007 #6


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    I think that is the point he was making. Republicans are seen as favoring the rich, and Democrats seen as favoring the poor, so someone driving an expensive, gas-guzzling SUV saying they're too poor to vote Republican is trying to lump the upper-middle class into the "poor" category.

    Maybe I'll make my own bumper sticker to counter that: "I'm too poor to vote Republican, and too rich to vote Democrat." :biggrin:

    Interestingly, similar to what Ivan mentioned, and getting at what Economist also mentioned, when I was growing up, I had no idea I was poor. We weren't dirt poor, but we had to be very frugal to ensure we made ends meet. Maybe we were lower, middle class. I went to school with the kids of professionals...I didn't see them as middle class (because I saw myself as middle class)...they were the "rich kids." I had friends even poorer than I was, living in tiny apartments, with very little, and probably not quite making ends meet. I was lucky to scrape together enough in grants and scholarships along with summer jobs to pay for college. I had friends who couldn't even consider it. The "rich kids" all had trust funds to pay for college. But, again, those of us at the bottom of the local economic scale didn't pity ourselves or expect someone else to rescue us from poverty, or expect the "rich kids" should have to help pay our way; the attitude was you work hard, study hard, and do your best to do better than your parents did and maybe you could be one of those rich people some day.
  8. Dec 15, 2007 #7
    The first two paragraphs explain a lot about the OP link.

    We definitely have bulging middles in this country, but this guy is in no way a part of the middle class.

    I would imagine that, if asked, people would not tend to put themselves in the lower class out of pride. Most economists admit that the middle class is shrinking.

    I have seen a lot of change over the years. One can not look at just now or just back then. Most of the people I grew up with made a living working at blue collar factory jobs. They owned their own homes and bought new vehicles. Over time most acquired substantial savings. They were solid middle class Americans.

    Along towards the end of the nineties the factories closed and many of them struggled through until retirement. Their children have found that most of the remaining factory jobs pay less and the service sector is disappearing.

    A lot of people have a hard time admitting to themselves that having to pay 50% of their income for housing equivalent to what their parents owned drops them out of the middle class.

    Their nicer home is a status symbol but does not reflect the reality that if they lived in homes that they could afford they would be moving into less desirable areas of town and out of the middle class.

    To a great extent many people have maintained a pseudo middle class lifestyle by living on credit. The jump in home values that accompanied the real estate boom only added to their own self assessment of economic class.

    A good read: For Richer -by paul Krugman


    A bit more.

    Looking back it appears that during the time ( 1950 - 1980) when there was a solid middle class in America there was an ironic twist to the political aspect. More people tended to be liberal. Now that the class pendulum is swinging more people are tending to become conservative.
  9. Dec 15, 2007 #8
    I don't know if this is true, as I've heard many economists object to that statement. Paul Krugman would (obviously) agree that the middle class is shrinking.
  10. Dec 15, 2007 #9
    Mr Google tells me that Krugman is not alone. "A shrinking middle class" seems to be the term most economists are using.
  11. Dec 15, 2007 #10


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    Care to point out any sources you found particularly persuasive or coherent? Also, for what its worth, Krugman IMO is cruising in hackville aboard a previously good professional reputation.
  12. Dec 16, 2007 #11


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    My suspicion would be that most people think they're pretty average, regardless of where they really are in the economic spectrum, so would likely call themselves middle class. I think only someone as filthy rich as Bill Gates or Donald Trump would realize they are "rich" and not just middle class.

    I have a friend who is VERY well off, and have to point out to him from time to time where he is in the tax bracket to remind him that he's not middle class with the rest of us (his annual bonus is close to my entire salary).
  13. Dec 16, 2007 #12
    After the FED lowered interest rates to prevent a recession due to the credit meltdown, inflation shot up to 0.8 % a month ( that's 9.6 % a year which is a lot). We are caught between a recession and inflation right now... the chicken littles may be right.

    And anyway, Russ, how can you think that we can just borrow money endlessly and not have it affect the economy negatively? It is illogical. It is free lunch economics. The economy is only growing because of the very deep limits on our national credit card. Sooner or later (probably sooner) that debt is coming due and then all hell is going to break loose. This isn't a matter of Democrat vs. Republican, I know of several very conservative economists who are worried
  14. Dec 16, 2007 #13
    You must be kidding, just google shrinking American middle class or just American middle class
    I dare ya.

    Here I'll give you a free one:


    When I see what is happening with the younger members of my extended family who live in the rust belt, I see something very persuasive, coherent, and obvious.
  15. Dec 16, 2007 #14


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    When I was a kid ('50's) our family of 6 lived in a little rented 4-room shack and my father had to keep us warm, clothed and fed on a minimum-wage mill job. We weren't poor, though (at least by the standards of our neighborhood). We had an indoor flush toilet and cold running water. We had a bathtub, but if you wanted a warm bath, you'd have to heat water for hours, so we mostly settled for sponge baths followed up with shampoos at the kitchen sink. Many of my class-mates' houses had out-houses and they had hand-pumps in the kitchen. These were little tiny places built in the 1920s to house workers building the giant hydro-dam in town, so amenities were few. Our most precious possession was a chest freezer, and even as a kid, I worked my tail off gathering fiddleheads and berries and tending our vegetable garden so we could get as much food laid up as possible. It was no small treat for the family when I was able to come back from fishing with a nice stringer-ful of trout. Those usually were eaten that night for supper. Generally, fresh fish was 'way too expensive to find its way into our meals, unless it was wild-caught.
  16. Dec 16, 2007 #15
    I wonder out of all the people considered 'middle class', how many of them have profesional degrees?

    I would be more worried if the professional middle class were shrinking.
  17. Dec 16, 2007 #16


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    What has that got to do with anything? Are you saying the number of times you see a website containing those words means something tangible? Google Britney Spears. I dare ya. :wink: I have to admit you've lost me on your logic.

    I don't see where they are coming up with people spending less on food and clothing now than 30 years ago. That's just plain wrong. In the 70's, my husband and I ate very well on $40 a week for the TWO of us, to buy the same food now would cost about 3-4 times more. I remember pork shoulder steaks were .79 a pound, now they are $3.29 a pound. Clothing prices for similar quality clothes are double to triple the price. They say "Overseas manufacturing and discount shopping mean that today’s family is spending almost $1,200 a year less than their parents spent to dress themselves." That's ridiculous to compare buying clothes at Walmart to buying well made clothing of fine wool and cotton, clothes that could be handed down and not fall apart.

    The article is making ridiculous comparisons.

    Sure if I ate nothing but ramen noodle soup I could eat for less than 30 years ago. :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2007
  18. Dec 16, 2007 #17
    Twin deficits, the norm? I am sure there are politicians and economists alike who love nothing more than point to the twin deficits as the source of middle America's problems. Because after all, average joe taxpayer is the one paying for these deficits, right? The Fed can only print so much money to pay off the debts of this nation before inflation becomes a bugger in the rump. The question then seems to be, can we sustain growth?

    Now, I don't like the implication by politicians that economic growth must be sustained, because it is a lot like saying population growth must be sustained. This isn't China, there is no one couple, one child policy, things happen in waves. The twin deficits are now a norm we must live with and with it, change in the monetary policy of this nation. Will this change squeeze out the middle class of America?
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2007
  19. Dec 16, 2007 #18
    The topic was the declining middle class. I get a predominance of links on google portraying just that. Few portray a rising middle class. The logic was aimed at the poster who challenged: Care to point out any sources you found particularly persuasive or coherent?

    There was a whole lot more in the Harvard article than the prices of clothing and pork shoulder steaks twenty years ago.:tongue:

    I don't see it that way. The comparisons are made because we have lost the jobs to China, yet now must depend on inexpensive foreign made goods just to maintain the status quo of the middle class. Food aside because it is domestic, we do live for less due to the lower cost of consumer goods. But we do so at the price of losing good jobs.

    As for fine woolen goods, they too are now made in China and are less expensive than in the past.

    Here is a link to a suit I looked at recently. It was made in China. The words fine and quality can now be left out, at least for any garment a middle income person can afford.

    This suit was so thin I could hold it up to the light and see through it. Ironically the more expensive suits didn't appear to be any better in quality and I couldn't find one at Macy's that wasn't made in China or Indonesia.

  20. Dec 17, 2007 #19


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    This seems true with a lot of things. I have a friend who works for an industrial parts supplier, and they only sell American, Canadian, or European made items in order to maintain a reputation of quality. People will come in all the time and say how they got some tool from Home Depot (made in China) for $5 and it broke on the first day. Then they'll get a tool that looks exactly the same, but was made in the US, and it lasts for years. You can use Chinese tools for fixing your TV, but something like a torque wrench must be made in the US or it will just break when you try using it.

    It's very true that you get what you pay for.
  21. Dec 17, 2007 #20


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    I should have been more clear; I didn't really mean that as a challenge. It was more that since you had just been searching you would be able to help us out w/ the 1 or 2 articles that best made your point and thus advance the discussion, since as Evo suggested one can google up sites on any topic that are poor quality, regardless of the validity of the point.
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