September 21, 2019

Who Counts as Middle Class?

“The other day, The New York Times released a collection of first-person testimonials, entitled “What Middle-Class Families Want Politicians to Know.” There was a hiccup though: Nearly everyone included in the piece was making over six figures. In a country where half of all households make less than $60,000 a year, it was an odd way to define “middle class.” This certainly tells us something about the socioeconomic blinders of the Times. But there is another worthwhile lesson about the nature of American inequality buried in the episode.

The term “middle class” has always been one of the watchwords in American politics. Look no further than “Middle-class Joe.” But a lot of times when it’s cited, the implied definition seems to be more experiential than statistical: A sense that what you have is good, but that you also struggle; what you have isn’t secure, and if you start falling there just won’t be any bottom. If we define “middle class” in this way, it suggests the Times interviewees — if still not representing the median “middle-class” person — arguably should be included under the umbrella.

Consider Jessica Wang, whose family makes $150,000 a year in San Francisco: “We cannot buy a home here, our cars are both over 10 years old, and we don’t eat out more than a couple of times per month. We have a college fund for our son, but no real savings.” Or the Dunhams of Minnesota, who make between $200,000 and $400,000, but also live under mountains of debt and work brutal hours: “Each of us lives in constant terror of falling asleep in a chair or behind the wheel or at the operating table and causing harm to someone or having something awful happen to our children because we couldn’t stay awake.””

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Blackface. I’ve been writing about, and researching – and opposing – racism for more than thirty years. And make no mistake: blackface isn’t funny. It’s racist. Ask Megyn Kelly. A year ago, the former Fox News star was filming a segment about..."

"Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “selfie line” may be a “political phenomenon,” according to CNN, but it’s also a misnomer, twice over: The photos that supporters end up with aren’t technically selfies—campaign aides snap them—and no one waits in a line..."

"In the archives of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, there is an old postcard from the city aquarium of a large sea turtle with four boys straddling its back. The turtle lies flattened upon a pathway in front of a fence. At the feet..."

"As we celebrated my granddaughter’s third birthday this summer, I made the following rough calculation: I’d trekked from my home in New Jersey to her Brooklyn apartment roughly 150 times to provide once-a-week day care, plus other times as needed."

"That seems to be the emerging bipartisan consensus. “On the evidence we have, the meritocratic ideal ends up being just as undemocratic as the old emphasis on inheritance and tradition,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “Our..."

"It was the 2019 Pet Sematary that finally broke me. Was this really necessary? I seethed in a theater earlier this year, at a loss for why anyone would green light a self-serious update to a 30-year-old so-bad-it's-good movie. "Update," even, was.."

"Tuesday was election day in Israel. But no winner has yet been declared. As of this writing, it appears that the parties committed to supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister will not win a majority in Knesset. At the same time, the..."

"The last time Netflix asked me “Are you still watching?” I had to think really hard about it. Was I still watching? Or at least enough to make my $16-a-month payment worth it? The subscription economy can be a wonderful thing. We don’t have to..."