Friday, April 29, 2005

The Middle Class

I posted (a version of ) this in comments, but I suppose it's worth its own discussion. What is the Middle Class?

To me, "middle class" is a 4 person two income family with health insurance who can afford a 4 bedroom suburban home in a neighborhood where there's a half-decent public school, and one car for each adult. At the lower end it's a shittier house, in a less desirable school district, and shittier cars. At the upper end it's a small mcmansion with some extra doo-dads and a bigger plot of land and more expensive cars.

That's the image of Middle Class in America. Anything below that may not be "living in poverty" or "starving to death" or "homeless" but it doesn't fit within the paradigm of American Middle Class. One doesn't necessarily have to be part of the AMC to have a decent life, either, depending on taste and circumstance.

I said "metro area" and not "city." There are still many parts of Philly metro area in which "middle class" is certainly achievable for $90,000 in household income. Not true for SoCal, or NY, or Boston, or SF,a stretch for Chicago, etc. In much of America 90,000 is more than enough, of course.


...To be clear, I don't think one needs to be living this type of suburban life to qualify as "middle class," although there's a cultural aspect perhaps to our perception of "middle class" which includes that. What I wrote is "who can afford." One can also choose to forego one of the cars and live in the city, or forego an income and a car voluntarily, or various other possible arrangements. It's the affordability of the arrangement, not whether one embraces it in the particulars. That is, if you wanted given your current job prospects you could obtain the scenario I described.

Certainly there are large numbers of people who don't fit this middle class description who lead relatively comfortable lives by many standards (and large numbers of people who don't). A family of 4 can survive in more modest circumstances and be quite happy. Or not. Depending. But just because they aren't under the poverty line or one paycheck away from eviction doesn't make them "middle class."