Bestiary of the American Class System

In the fiscal cliff deal, congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed not to raise taxes on all Americans earning under $400,000 a year – in other words, everyone gets a tax cut except the top 0.5% of income earners. Even if you are an unmarried couple earning $800,000 a year, you qualify for a so-called “middle class tax cut.” In what country could someone earning that kind of money he considered middle-class? Only in the United States in the year 2013. Everybody is middle-class, from the homeless to the middle classy. As for those who earn over $800,000 a year as an unmarried couple or $400,000 as an individual, well, hell, we never see them anyway.

8 thoughts on “Bestiary of the American Class System

  1. Ted, while I acknowledge that 85% of Americans are “middle class,” you also have to realize that ALL children are above average, AND 74% of statistics are made up on the spot. So, Ted, how much do you make?

  2. Ted,

    I don’t think “middle class” has EVER been defined, has it?

    This is simply the same bait-and-switch used to gimmick the unemployment figures. We all have a similar concept of what we think “unemployed” means. For me, it means someone — regardless of amount of time they have not been working — who does not have a job to go to that earns income.

    By my definition, someone who has given up looking for work and sleeps on a heating grate, as well as someone who is just now walking out of the office with a cardboard box full of personal effects, are both considered unemployment.

    The newspapers and the politicians consider someone unemployed if they have been without a job for a certain number of weeks. After that number of weeks, that person magically becomes un-unemployed. When I was a kid, we called this lying. As an adult, I still call it lying. But, the politicians and the newspapers use the U-2 stat to claim unemployment is dropping. By expanding “middle class,” the same politicians and journalists [sic] can continue to assure us of the U.S. middle class’ robustness.

    Middle class, in my mind, means that you have all of the following circumstances (unless you intentionally choose to not have them):

    1. You have a checking account with a balance of over $1,000 (barring surprise drains on the account, like the day your car engine exploded).
    2. You have affordable access to medical coverage, including dental and vision.
    3. If your television gave up the ghost right now, you could charge a new one on a credit card that would NOT bounce the attempt.
    4. Your car will pass inspection on the first attempt.
    5. If you were arrested 10 minutes from now, you would be able to either raise the bail yourself or call a friend who could do it for you because one of you would have a credit rating/collateral that would make you worth the risk.
    6. You can walk out of your residence at night without being afraid.
    7. Your kitchen has working appliances, including refrigerator, oven, microwave, coffee maker, toaster, dishwasher, and (if permitted in your area) garbage disposal under the sink.
    8. If you wanted to, you could have a pet because you could afford vet payments, food, toys, etc.
    9. If your friend sends you a wedding invitation, your first thought is either, “Oh, I’m so happy for them,” or “Who the fuck would marry him? I can’t wait for this disaster to blow up in his face in a couple years,” not “Oh, Christ, how the fuck am I gonna afford the wedding present?”

  3. Sorry for the double post.

    10. For the women, only. You are middle class (at least) if you live in one of those states where abortion is every man’s right to deny you, but you can afford airfare and hotel accommodations in a civilized state (or Canada), and you can take the time off from work without losing your job.

  4. But, Ted, meaningful terms, like proletariat or working class, petty bourgeoisie, bourgeoisie, etc, which are susceptible to definition sound so «foreign» and «political», so they can’t be used. «Middle class», however, sounds so egalitarian and nice. Nothing extreme, rather smack in the mainstream. USA, USA (but we see the same use of the term here in Europe) !…


  5. Alex, your standards are woefully low, so low that I don’t think that they are actually empirically possible. By those standards your average “middle-class” family in the 60’s was frankly rich.

    You don’t really need a list that long. If you can’t afford without hardship both regular vacations and a retirement fund, you’re not middle class. And yes, this means that the middle class is pretty much outnumbered by the poor. Welcome to NeoFeudalism.

  6. Sekhmet,

    All the things I posted, with the exception of #10 and #1, which have extenuating circumstances — the former being religious, the latter being a math problem only, so rename the $1000 as $100 — were things that a middle-class family in the 1960s did have. They WERE rich, at least by today’s standards. And a lot of them had company pensions, which they got after staying with the same company for decades. Now, we get a shot to the face and a lecture about needing to put our own weight if we talk about pensions, regular raises and job security.

    Just wait until the whole 401(k) pyramid scheme starts imploding. Wow, you’ll see some hysterics then.

    • Alex, retirement is the big crisis that dare not speak its name. Man, that sucker is going to really come home to roost and soon and big. The government has been looting Social Security, the corporations have been looting the old-fashioned defined benefit pension plans, those that are still left, and of course the 401(k)s never gained enough value for even the luckiest people – those who didn’t get laid off – to be able to save enough to retire. Add to the fact that people who were supposed to have their peak earnings in their 50s are now ending up with no earnings whatsoever are going to be hitting their 60s and 70s without a dime of savings, and you have a serious prescription for mass poverty. The only wrinkle is, there aren’t many precedents for geriatric people leaving revolutions. More likely they’ll just sit and starve.

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