The Grey is an action movie directed by screen-violence virtuoso Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson. In it, Neeson goes head-to-head with a pack of hungry wolves in a snowy desolate wilderness. Sound familiar? Sounds like middle-class America to me, too!
First off, how many among us consider ourselves middle-class? Probably a fair number of us. Which is why there is always a constant gnashing of teeth in politics about protecting the middle-class.
It’s a waste of breath. And effort. Middle-class America is gone. It has been destroyed–by us–for profit (for a select and very rich few).
So what are all these politicos babbling about?
Well, it sounds nice. And I guess it makes you seem like the good guy if you’re for the middle class. But what do they mean when they say middle class? I never hear politicians or office holders give their interpretation of the term. I mean, is it a formula (x number of dollars for every adult + y dollars for every child)? Is it defined by the part of town you live in? Or which schools your children go to? It’s never really made clear is it?
I believe middle-class is determined by a family’s (or individual’s) ability to participate in the economy within a certain range. Yeesh. I could run for office with that answer. Let me be more specific. I would say a family is middle-class when it is able to:
- Buy a house – putting at least 20% down and pay the monthly mortgage, maintenance, insurance, appliance and furnishing expenses.
- Pay utilities – including monthly bills on gas, water, electricity, trash pick-up, cable, internet (with some kind of accessing device for each member of the household) and cell phone service (with data and messaging).
- Buy a car – putting at least 20% down and making the monthly payment as well as gas, insurance, and maintenance for at least 1 car per household.
- Maintain at least 2 credit cards per household without getting buried in debt.
- Cover every member of the household with a comprehensive healthcare plan including vision and dental.
- Put at least 25% of all monthly income aside for retirement. Anyone retiring in 2012 should have a total net worth of at least $1 million. Anyone retiring subsequently should increase that minimum at least 3% each year.
- Put money aside for college for all children in the household. With skyrocketing tuition costs it would be nearly impossible to cover the entire cost of college education, but it should at least be enough to make the debt manageable for the graduating student.
- Accumulate and maintain at least 6 months income in savings as an emergency fund.
- Take 1 vacation per year that includes travel costs, hotel rooms, activities, and meals.
- Buy a Starbucks coffee each day and lunch at a restaurant at least twice a week for each working adult.
- Have a family event at least once a month (movie, dinner at a restaurant, day at the water park, etc.).
Some people might look at this list and feel I’m being too generous. But am I?
There’s nothing on this list about video games or big screen televisions. I didn’t say the car had to be a Mercedes or the clothes couldn’t come from Walmart. I didn’t give a minimum star-rating that the restaurants or hotels had to have. Vacations don’t have to be trips to Paris or even Disneyland. I didn’t state what kind of neighborhood the house had to be in or how many bedrooms it had to have.
I didn’t say this is what all Americans are owed either. But I do say that if you cannot afford to do at least 9 of the items on this list–including all of the top 5–without burying yourself in debt, then you cannot consider yourself middle-class.
I’d even take the argument a step further (in the interest of family values) and say ALL of this should be achievable with one adult working full-time or AT MOST one full-time working adult and one working part-time.
It’s not about the specifics so much anyway. Some of us might want a nicer car or a bigger house or might not like to take vacations. Those are individual choices. But if those are choices being made for you because you can’t afford it, you’re on the outside looking in at the middle-class.
Alright, show of hands. Who among us is really middle-class?
Yeah. The wolves are closing in.
(Black family image from: http://whatnowatlanta.com/2011/05/23/are-condos-ruining-atlanta/. 50’s family image from: http://otal.umd.edu/~vg/mssp96/ms01/honr159j.html No BMW image from: http://www.bmwblog.com/2008/08/01/bmw-x7-canceled-x6-and-7-series-hybrids-are-coming/. Students at school image from: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/03/31/schools.integration/index.html. Computer devices image from: http://www.sync-blog.com/sync/2011/09/smartphone-tablet-laptop-and-gaming-system-in-one-yes-please.html. Liam Neeson image from: http://swipelife.com/2011/02/22/movie-review-unknown/)