Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pains of Slow Decline

The Pew foundation has released a new poll about middle class decline, and I've pasted in the wire service summary. Papers are cutting back, you know - no one's around to actually read the report live. Dismal.

Decaying infrastructure is a related topic, since public services and the middle-class decay in lockstep. It killed a firefighter in LA two weeks ago. And the amazing airline chaos of the past couple of weeks offers the private version of the same underinvestment, in the air services at prices that allowed the masses to go long distances for the first time. Jeff Bailey at the New York Times has a good overview of the long-term problem that led one carrier - American - to cancel 3000 flights during last week.

From the Los Angeles Times
Middle-class Americans say they're feeling pinched
From the Associated Press

April 10, 2008

WASHINGTON — More middle-class Americans say they aren't better off than they were five years ago, reflecting economic pressures amid growing personal debt, a study released Wednesday found.

Their short-term assessment of personal progress, according to the study, is the worst it's been in nearly half a century.

The survey by the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based organization, paints a mixed picture for the 53% of adults in the country who define themselves as "middle class," with household incomes ranging from below $40,000 to more than $100,000.

It found that a majority of all Americans said they hadn't progressed in the last five years.

One in four said their economic situation had not improved, while 31% said they had fallen backward. Those numbers together are the highest since the survey question was first asked in 1964. Among the middle class, 54% said they had made no progress (26%) or fallen back (28%).

Asked about their financial experiences in the last year, 53% of middle-class people said they had to cut spending because money was tight. Nearly 18% said they had trouble getting or paying for medical care, while 10% reported they had lost their jobs.

Looking ahead to the coming year, half of the middle class surveyed said they expected to have to further reduce personal spending. Among those employed, one in four, or 25%, expressed worries that they would be laid off, that their job would be outsourced or that their employer would relocate in the coming year, while 26% were concerned that they would see cuts in salary or health benefits.

Middle-class prosperity overall also lagged compared with richer Americans. From 1983 to 2004, the median net worth of upper-income families -- defined as households with annual incomes above 150% of the median -- grew by 123%, while the median net worth of middle-income families rose by just 29%.

At the same time, most middle-class people remained upbeat when asked to measure their progress over a longer time frame, although their level of optimism lagged behind their wealthier counterparts. Two-thirds, or 67%, of middle-class Americans say their standard of living is better than the one their parents enjoyed at the age they are now.

In contrast, 80% of the rich said they exceeded their parents' living standard. Among lower wage earners only 49% reported better conditions.

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