The Middle Class, the Working Class and American Politics
The term middle class works especially well for millionaires and billionaires. They find it useful as a way to get families and individuals to envy the rich and identify with them. People who think their middle class are more likely to feel superior to people identified as working class.
Many stories in the media cite middle class criteria for you to evaluate your personal status. Are you in the middle class? Money Watch published a typical list on the Internet. It lists eight criteria: 1. You earn between $36,000 and $109,000 a year, 2. You own a home, 3. You have a secure job, 4. You have health insurance, 5. You invest for retirement, 6. You went to college, 7. You take family vacations and 8. You think you’re middle class.
It’s instructive that five of the eight criteria – 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 - apply to how much you earn and what you can afford. In a consumer oriented society business wants everyone to define themselves and their class by what they earn, own and buy. People who compare their income with others might forget about job rights and what they go through to earn a living.
Equating class to what you earn and buy ignores the power to control the political system. If you answer yes to the following four statements you are in the privileged upper class. If you answer no, then you are in the working class.
1. You sit on the board of directors of an American corporation with more than $100 million in assets.
2. Your lawyer and accountant have set up your non-profit foundation that gives away more than a million dollars a year.
3. You do not pay more than 15 percent marginal personal income tax and have in one or more years in the past decade paid no federal personal income tax.
4. You can easily support yourself and your family in the manner you expect without working for a wage or salary.
Political power determines the economic rules that allow and perpetuate the upper class. As Warren Buffet likes to tell the press from time to time wage earners pay taxes at more than double the rate he pays for corporate stock dividends or capital gains. If we define the working class as people who have to support themselves working for a wage or salary, the current tax rules create a decided disadvantage for the working class. I am unaware of working class influence on Congress that might change that.
There is a famous quote of Jay Gould, the American tycoon from the 19th century: "I can hire one half the working class to kill the other half." Back in the 19th century tycoons like Jay Gould did hire working class guards to shoot at picketing strikers; Mr. Gould was not making idle threats. Lately Governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin get the under paid, over worked, over taxed members of the working class to attack public school teachers who they are encouraged to think are over paid and privileged members of the middle class. The working class who vote for a Scott Walker vote for a politician who steadily works to lower their standard of living.
The working class has always been divided because some people think they’re in the middle class when there’s no such thing as the middle class. The term is deliberate deception and diversion. If you work for wages, or you’re retired and live on the savings and Social Security from your wages, you’re in the working class. Your income means nothing in that classification; it’s how you earn a living, not how much. If Americans know who they are, there will be changes in American politics that uplift the miserable and powerless lot of wage earners.
What class are you in?