The Accelerating Decay of the Middle Class

The Accelerating Decay of the Middle Class by Charles Hugh Smith for Of Two Minds

Ironically, their ample compensation allows them to avoid the poor-quality services they’ve designed for everyone below them.

If we define middle class by the security of household income and what that income can buy rather than by an income level, what do we conclude? We have little choice but to conclude the middle class is decaying, both in the percentage of the workforce that qualifies as “middle class” according to traditional standards and in the quality of life of those who do qualify.

There’s a longstanding way to understand the middle class quality of life: it’s supposed to be superior to the indignities of being poor. If you’ve been poor (and I’ve been down to my last $100), even for short periods, you know the indignities and frictions of being poor (and by poor I don’t mean on welfare, I mean working poor, with unreliable incomes and low wages).

Being middle class meant being able to escape the hassles and indifferent services that await the poor. Fast-forward to today: what day-to-day tasks and interactions are easy and cost-free for the middle class? How many are nightmarish, complicated, frustrating, and costly?

Virtually all of them. Being “middle class” is no longer a buffer to the indignities and friction of a dysfunctional, costly status quo that only serves the wealthy with anything resembling what was once afforded the middle class.

No wonder what remains of the middle class is so anxious to qualify for “elite” airline miles programs and similar “special” service, because it approximates what every middle class person once expected as the norm.

In terms of the quality of life and of services, the bottom 95% is now poor. Can you really contest this, or is contesting a matter of hurt pride?

What qualifies as middle class? I’ve defined it by characteristics rather than income: starting with What Does It Take To Be Middle Class? (December 5, 2013), I’ve used 12 minimum standards of membership that were implicit characteristics of the conventional middle class a generation ago:

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