The Frontline episode about the middle class experience over two decades in the US, and it portrays the exact experience of my childhood. The hope and dream of the middle class, that a good paying job will carry them through and provide a modest improvement of life for their children. My entire life I have felt that dream slipping away.
In the 90’s, that dream was shattered for the middle class families. Jobs disappeared, and when they came back the jobs were minimum wage and little to no benefits. Families could not survive, so more women went to work, families broke apart under the stress, and now kids are struggling to cope with a difficult family situation and they don’t have as much time with their parents to get the guidance and love and support needed to deal with growing up. And the kids become more susceptible to making mistakes that have long term consequences such as dropping out of school, having kids, or gangs.
My dad worked as a civilian at a military base, which was shut down. He was laid off, after 18 years and missed the possible retirement benefits by 2 years. So he retrained and luckily found a job with benefits, but it did not pay as much. I remember being about 15 when we were standing in the front yard, he said “You will not have to pay for your college education.” Somehow I knew even then, that it was an unrealistic promise. I worked hard to get good grades and good scholarships to pay for my state education. By luck, I avoided the things that can derail people from going to college.
And what are we working so hard for? So we can buy cars and appliances that break easily or don’t last; we have to borrow big money to buy a house, and borrow to go for college. Credit card companies and lending firms trick people into thinking they can rack up the debt but it will be easy to pay off when we get a job. We’re told we can make a life for ourselves, if we work hard, but if there aren’t enough jobs we can take a risk to start a business. How often does this plan actually work for the middle class? Then the neighborhood goes south and crime elevates, until it’s no longer safe to live in the house you have worked 24 years to try and keep.
It’s a bit shocking to see these charts on the wealth and income of the middle class since 1980. But Wall Street was able to make big money in those times. Not to mention the successes of the people willing to cheat, lie, deceive.