The very rich have their politicians, and the very poor have their advocates. Will someone speak for the lower middle class? How retro!
A new study from The Hamilton Project (America's greatest project), a think tank affiliated with the Brookings Institute, focuses its attention on the neglected lower middle class, a group it defines like so: "This struggling lower-middle class consists of the 30 percent of working-age families with children who have incomes between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or between roughly $15,000 and $60,000, depending on family composition. Though not officially poor, these individuals and families experience limited economic security. One major setback could thrust them into economic chaos."
This is the "real America" of working people so often touted by politicians but ignored by public policy. These are the working poor—the group that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree to help. They work (Republicans love that!) but they're still poor (liberals hate that!). Of course, America's political reality, which is "money talks," means that the lower middle class does not get the attention that it needs, and deserves. The majority of families in America earn less than $60,000 per year. Here are some quick facts about them, from the Hamilton Project's report:
-48% of head of households have attended some college, and 14% have at least a bachelor's degree.
-About a third of lower class families receive food stamps, unemployment, welfare, or SSI benefits from the government.
-Unlike extremely poor families or relatively wealthy families, lower middle class families can often be squeezed between the choices of increasing their income and losing government benefits. The study notes that in some cases, this dynamic can make it almost irrational for someone to try to improve their economic position through work.
Today, Barack Obama will give a speech focusing on income inequality. It's part of a reported push by the Democratic party to make the wealth and wage gap a big issue in the 2014 elections (with a raise in the minimum wage a centerpiece of their platform). Well, it fucking should be. Economic inequality has been the most overwhelming American issue of the past five years—or the past 30 years, if you take the long view. It's about time someone got around to doing something, even if it's only raising wages by a few bucks an hour.
The lower class is the most important class. But the lower class has the advantage of at least being obvious in its wretchedness. The lower middle class, by contrast, is easy to forget. On the one hand, it's easy to assume that they are doing okay, because they're working; on the other hand, they don't make enough money to assert any real political influence. And all the time, they teeter on the edge of economic oblivion. It should be possible, in the United States of America, for the lower middle class to be characterized by people on the way up the economic ladder, rather than by people hanging onto their tenuous economic positions for dear life. A few ideas for all those Democratic politicians:
- Support for and expansion of labor unions.
The lower middle class can vote. Alternately, they can riot, strike, march, and eat the rich, who are vastly outnumbered. So give them something to vote for.