The middle class is arguably the heart and soul of America. Since the term was first established by sociologists in the 1950’s, the middle class has made up over half of the countries population.
There are different levels of middle class. There is the lower middle, standard middle and upper middle class. Together since the terms conception, they have accounted for roughly 70% of Americans.
However, according to the Bloomberg News, the middle class in America has dipped to the fifty percent mark over the past two year. Only half of the country today is considered part of the middle class as compared to numbers that historically have fluctuated in the sixty to seventy percent range.
At the end of the 20th century and during the beginning of the 21st century, there was, and continues to be a big push for a raise in the minimum wage for “low skilled” workers. At the surface, this sounds like a fantastic idea. Theoretically the lower class now has a chance to enter the middle class, this raising the number beyond 50 percent.
Advocates of a dramatic raise in the minimum wage claim that this will balance the economy and help give more opportunities to individuals who were not in a position to advance economically before. An increase in wages should increase the standard of living for lower income worker and families.
However, the million dollar question, (excuse the obvious pun) who and how is this going to be paid for and funded?
The ideal situation calls for wealthiest one percent of Americans to shoulder the burden and pony up to help bridge the gap between the rich, the poor and the middle class.
Now let’s account for the reality of the situation. Will the wealthiest one percent of Americans be willing to share or take a deduction in their earnings to help bridge this gap? Let’s assume they do for a second. The amount of money needed from the wealthy to help bridge the gap would be less than a pin prick in to their finances. That pin prick will barely be felt and it will account for only a minor inconvenience on wealthy, if an inconvenience at all.
However let us use common sense. The wealthy got wealthy because they were smart and protective of their money. Because of their wealth, they have access to top level attorneys and hedge funds to protect their wealth that the vast majority of Americans do not have access to. So common sense dictates one of two things: one – the rich will not go down without a fight, or two – the rich are wealthy enough to not only survive the possible economic storm of inflation, but profit from it.
If minimum wage becomes nationalized at 15$ an hour as proposed by a number of members of congress and presidential candidates there will be many unseen consequences, some of which will be detrimental to the current middle class.
Many small businesses will be forced to cut back labor or raise prices or potentially both in an attempt to remain in the market place. Even in doing one or the other or even both, there is no guarantee that small businesses can survive this potential economic adjustment.
The raise in minimum wage would essentially be a targeted inflation. Prices will raise while the wages of middle class Americans who work on a salary basis will suffer. Individuals or family incomes that do not make over 160,000 dollars will suffer the most according to the pewsocialtrends.org. They will suffer because that one hundred and fifty dollars a week grocery bill just doubled. Some household necessity items such as kitchen ware, furniture and many other items families use frequently will see the prices sky rocket to meet the demands of the new economic market place.
Luxury items such as televisions, automobiles, fancy clothes and many other accessories will see price spikes too.
There has been no great calling for middle class wages to increase. The workers making fifteen dollars and hour certainly won’t be able to afford all of the items that they were not able to afford before. So what really will change?
The wealthiest Americans will still be able to spend frivolously and avoid any economic shift.
The changes I fear are that the middle class will sink lower as the trends mentioned above suggest. The middle class will be in name only. There will be no spending power behind the middle class. Their purchasing power will diminish. Their money will flow less in to the economy because of a need to protect their basic essentials for living, this further inflating our economy.
I am not an economist, but I do know an economy thrives when the middle class is confident and spending money.
What I am is a single, middle class working male teacher whose salary changes a hair below the annual standard of living increase necessary for living a comfortable lifestyle each year. While I do not live pay check to paycheck, I am worried about the future of my finances.
I do not claim to have viable solutions to the economic problems of the less fortunate. I can only speak from the lens in which I see and experience things.
Some cities have been out in front of the minimum wage scale and the data is still coming in on how it is affecting all classes of citizens. My hope is those cities will serve as a model of what works and what does not work before our leaders in Washington make any drastic new changes to pay scales.
I fear, as many Americans do that I will need to save more think harder on each purchase I make. I am not insensitive to the needs of the lower class but I feel simply changing the minimum wage is not enough. A plan must be in place to raise consumer confidence and to ensure that the current middle class is not the one who is hit the hardest by new changes.
The middle class, myself included, want to know that we will not be the ones who feel the blow of inflation. The truth is, we are the ones who can least afford it. We are also the ones who make up the majority (plurality at the bear minimum depending on which source we read) of this country.
We are the heart and soul. We are the cogs in the wheel that make the economy thrive. We are the worriers; yet we are also the spenders. We place our trust in millionaires and billionaires to make decisions on what is best for us. My final hope is that those in power with the power see the entire picture before making decisions about the future of our economy and not just focus and target one group.
We are all in this together, from the richest of rich all the way down to the poorest of poor. I for one do not want to see my financial state become as fragile as the economy potentially could become due to rash, poor decision making.
Author: Adam Wilkinson
Image: The All-Nite Images-flickr