Friday, October 20, 2006

Middle class going the way of the dinosaur (Oct. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

There was a time in America when the man of the house was expected to earn a living, and the woman’s role was that of a home-maker, raising the children and running the household. Women broke this mold when they began to enter the workforce -- rightfully so -- and changed the model of the American family forever.While this sexist idea of the nuclear family of the fifties was rife with gender bias and unfair stereotyping, there was one part of this social arrangement which was beneficial.That was the idea that one parent worked while the other had the extremely important role of watching, raising, and nurturing the children -- a role I have performed in the past, so I know what I’m talking about.But right now, I’m in the same situation as most Americans. My wife and I both work full time, and our two children spend time in daycare. We are extremely lucky, though. Our caregivers are great with the kids, and they both enjoy the time that they spend there.But I have to admit that, there are times that I feel guilty because I no longer stay home with the kids. I worry that there are moments in my daughter’s and my son’s lives that I will miss, and I cannot ever get them back. They grow up so fast, and stay little for what seems like such a short time.What happened in this country that made it so necessary for us to all work such long hours? Why can’t we make ends meet with only one parent working?Some experts claim that anyone can make the sacrifice so that one parent can stay at home, but I know from experience that it’s difficult, if not impossible for young families to get by with only one income in today’s society. What spurred this situation? Inflation? A higher cost of living? An increased lifestyle expectation?Whatever the cause, it is a shame that we left this part of American culture behind (minus the sexist stereotyping, of course).Do we want too much? Expect too much?Is it our lust for expensive toys in our lives and big houses the cause of our need for more family income? Have Americans become too greedy? Or has inflation and the cost of living quickly exceeded our ability to meet our monthly financial obligations?What has really suffered because of this movement to the dual income society has been family. We have more disposable income, and less disposable time to enjoy our lives -- and really no way to remedy the situation.The income of the middle class in America isn’t such that we can survive without dual wage earners in each family; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and everyone else is doing the best they can to get by. According to a study commissioned recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, the middle class is being squeezed. The combination of declining real incomes and increasing expenses reduces the standard of living for the middle class. In real terms, health insurance costs have increased by nearly $900, gasoline and other energy costs have increased by over $2,300, and college education costs have increased by over $1,500 since 2000. The median U.S. family facing these three expenses would have seen its real income drop by almost $1,300 since 2000, while its real expenses would have increased by almost $5,000. So, normal Americans are making less, and putting out more of their income. The next question is, how can we make more, and spend less? From the study, it seems simple. The government needs to do its job. Lower inflation, lower taxes, give businesses the breaks that they need to pay their employees more. Decrease the costs of energy by making us less reliant on foreign oil, increase alternative energy solutions, and lower college and other education costs so they do not exceed the costs of inflation or cost of living.I know this is simplifying the issue, but it doesn’t seem all that hard when you break it down this way. I just hope it’s easy enough for the politicians who are running for office now and in 2008 to understand, because at this rate, the middle class will be eliminated completely before they figure out how keep us from becoming an endangered species.Cean Burgeson can be reached at

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