$95,000 a year is the new “middle class”

How America is running out of good paying jobs to support the middle class

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

We did it to ourselves. We got married, had kids, and wanted to raise a family. I chose a job with good work hours, she wanted to take an active role in our kids lives and is at home. According to most articles, we should be living a satisfying life.

You can argue being homeless in the United States is a satisfying life, say, compared to being a slum dwelling in Mumbai. This is the argument used to stifle complaints from the middle/upper middle class. It’s the 90% vs the 9% and somehow the top 1% keeps getting a bigger share of the pie.

We’re not complaining about innovation generating benefits for all. But lately a lot of disruption has been about taking money from people and putting it into the pockets of the investing class, the millionaires and billionaires. Has social media and online news made us connected and informed in the way we envisioned? Surely there was the promise of it, before we lost control of our privacy, the importance of the truth, and the quality of online discourse. These growing pains we’re going through all but decimated thousands of good paying news gathering jobs held by journalists nationwide.

The same could be said for our retirement savings. Low interest rates are great for homebuyers, but they also artificially inflated our stock market, leading to the encouragement of risky debt purchases that made companies unstable. Those same companies are being bailed out by taxpayer dollars paid by families clipping coupons every Sunday to buy groceries.

We were meant to be more than food delivery drivers for the VCs to profit from in Silicon Valley. Our houses were our homes, not a financial product for Wall Street bankers to bundle, mince, and get bailed out on when things went south. Our public institutions were there to serve us, not to be gutted by our politicians who passed unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy.

The reality is that if you are a three person household, living on $50,000 a year, you are not middle class. You are poor. You stop being poor right around $75,000 a year. And if you’re supporting another family member, whether its a second child, or a parent, you don’t get to enjoy a middle class live until you’re making more.

Without taking away from single parents, children do benefit from having more than one adult that cares for them in their lives. That could be a parent and a grandparent, or a more traditional mom and dad setup. But can two role models be there in a child’s early life?

We’re long past the days of a single earner home. Young college graduates, or those with advanced degrees, don’t really think about the implication until they get married and have children. Suddenly, who stays home and goes to work matters. Because you can put your children in daycare and school, but you start to question why you’re working and why you brought these kids into the world.

For a person to get to the middle class, they need to get a knowledge working job. That’s the only way you can hope to make $50/hr. But then you need your child to go somewhere. If it’s daycare, you know you’re just putting them in a parking spot. It might be fun for a while, and offer socialization, but at what cost? The average daycare worker makes no more than $15/hr. We’re climbing over our fellow human beings to just stand a little higher than them.

And what are these people, daycare and teachers, doing? Just raising the next generation. The efforts made here can determine crime rates, educational outcomes, health risk prevention. Shouldn’t this burden be shared more equitably?

There is a reckoning coming with COVID-19 and we’re going to see the issues with our educational institutions. This spills over into our single earner vs dual earner home. If you had a household that sustained itself on one income, but had two capable owners, you were in great shape for a recession. But most Americans trying to get to an income just shy of six figures weren’t there. That’s roughly $50 an hour. The last time I checked, people were not advertising hourly jobs at that rate.

What is more likely is that many middle-class households in America were working jobs paying $20 to $30 an hour, but COVID-19 wiped those jobs, and with it, the middle class went onto the unemployment rolls. And with the middle class spending less, there are less jobs to be had for the lower rung.

But meanwhile Amazon is posting record profits from online sales. Interesting that the same applies to Walmart. Both companies have notorious reputations for worker health and safety. But what choice do Americans have? Because these companies scaled with investment, shut down their competition, and raised prices or lowered them and passed on the burdens to taxpayers in other ways. Artificially depressing worker pay by busting worker organization causes more employees to stay on public welfare, or work longer hours and have negative impacts in home life, drug use, and other issues.

I would be lying if that was trueif by that, you mean that I’m just barely keeping up with my bills. We live in an area with a low cost of living, we drive used cars, and we never eat out. We do our shopping in bulk, have good credit, and try to keep our expenses down to the essentials.

But we’re not saving for our kids. And we have no plan to help our parents, who failed to save for their retirement. In a few years, we’re going to have to merge our households.

Reader, commenter, and writer. Informed by my experiences as a parent, entrepreneur, and attorney.

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