Vital Signs

Wiping Out the Middle Class

Dawn is 25. Marty is 27. Dawn works as a preschool teacher at a local private Christian school. Marty is a laborer at a retail distribution center. This Phoenix, Arizona, couple with a small child bring home about $30,000 per year. Yet they could not afford to buy Christmas presents this year.

Now, not putting more cash into some merchant's pockets is no great loss. But keeping a young family constantly on a treadmill without a respite is an American tragedy of the 1990's. Especially when, as if adding insult to injury, we see billionaires like Ted Turner get a tax break for donating $1 billion to the United Nations, while middle-class Americans like Dawn and Marty often have to resort to buying even milk and bread on credit.

Nor is this some sort of a regional phenomenon. Here is, for example, an excerpt from a letter I received from a newspaper editor in the nation's capital: "In Washington, the level of income required to achieve a 'middle-class' standard of living—e.g., a single family home in a decent neighborhood, enough money to raise at least two children responsibly, etc.—is about $80,000 annually, hardly a 'middle-class' wage. If I recall correctly, government statistics define a 'middle-class' family income as $34,000 or so Meanwhile, the 'plutocrats' are moving into garish $600,000-million-plus homes with more square footage than a small English castle,...

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