The middle class are meant to live comfortably most of the time, without the regular pressure of financial struggle. Growing up, I lived with both parents. My father was a tool and die maker and my mother was a waitress. Her profession was not stable and she didn’t always have a job. My father’s income depended on the market. I remember at one point, the demand for airplane parts was so high, that my father was working 80 hours a week and making double his income. There were other times when he was just working a typical 40-hour workweek and hoping for the boss to give him over-time. Being laid-off was also not uncommon for him. I grew up watching my parents work at their dream to have peace of mind and try, unsuccessfully, to put away money for emergencies. They were unsuccessful for several reasons; however I would say that the two main reasons were that many times they were indulgent with addictions and spent unwisely.
They weren’t poor. Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, suggests that the median household income of the middle class ranges from $25,500 to $76,500. When my father passed away 10 years ago, he was making over $50,000, which would make him upper-middle class at that time. That means that when my father was laid off, making much less than what he was used to with overtime, and my mother wasn’t working, we were still middle class. We were still middle class, yet struggled to pay the rent and maintain our quality of life. Smoking five packs of cigarettes a day between the two of them was also a hefty cost. We never had a new car, always rented apartments and did not take family week-long vacations.
Today, I’m considered middle class. I have an autoimmune disease and was out of work 2 years ago for 3 months. Thank goodness I had money saved in an account for myself, because there would have been no way I could sustain my mortgage payments and pay my other bills without it. When I went to apply for financial aid this semester, I was told that because I had money in my savings account I could afford to pay $16,000 a year for my education. Our federal guidelines do not consider expenses and do not consider that everyone should have 3-6 months of savings set aside for emergency situations. As a person working in the financial industry and knowing my potential to be out of work with health issues, I disagree with their assessment.
As my parents were, I too am middle class. I’d been living on my own with roommates from the ages of 18 to 27. I purchased my own condo ten years ago while working two jobs. My boyfriend helped me to pay half of the bills, which helped me to dig myself out of credit card debt. I’ve worked two jobs most of my life until the past 4 years in order to sustain my standard of living. Over the last 4 years I’ve been living pretty comfortably in an 800-square foot condo, vacationing once a year, not worried about paying my bills and without credit card debt. I saved money every week. Then, I decided to finish my college degree and paid cash for my classes and was told I wasn’t eligible for financial aid. My central air conditioning unit broke which will cost me $5,500 to fix and my car died. I cannot afford to pay for all of these large priced items at once. I cancelled cable. I eat out less. I am looking for more income to pay for the expenses knowing I will end up struggling again if I don’t find a way not to overextend myself. After all, I conduct seminars on credit, budgeting and digging out of debt. I cannot possibly put myself back into a situation that I’m teaching others to get out of, can I? I’m middle class and meant to live comfortably. This feels uncomfortable. -Barbara Gunterman