Middle Class Aided Its Own Decline

Froma Harrop
The Providence Journal
via Creators.com

This was the Year of the Middle Class — as in, its falling incomes, loss of job security and anger. The global economic forces fueling the decline, such as foreign competition and computers, have been well reported. But what about cultural factors? Is the middle class going down partly because it stopped acting middle class?

For those who remember the American middle’s golden era of 40 years ago — or see it reconstructed on TV dramas — the cultural losses are pretty shocking. The middle managers in “Mad Men” returned to orderly homes with tidy children, even as their personal lives spun into chaos. While comfortable, their houses were modest by today’s McMansion standards. That’s because they were living within their means.

On “Pan Am,” the passengers in economy class are served hot meals on trays. The flight attendants (stewardesses then) deal with neatly dressed travelers in all classes. And while they have their problem passengers, they do not do daily battle against swinish slobs with money.

Frugality used to be a central middle-class theme. What happened to it? We now read the stories of middle-class families in free fall because they lost a job and had no savings. Back in the mists of time, there was a rule about setting aside six months of salary to cover a possible job loss. Not only did the middle class stop saving, but it famously borrowed to maintain extravagant living beyond what its stagnating salaries could support…

…Can the losses, economic and cultural, be reversed? Perhaps, but that would require a very different political and social conversation. We may have a theme for 2012.

Read the entire article at Creators.com

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