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An excellent list of how the other half lives, ganked from [livejournal.com profile] akiko.

May as well cut/paste the first thing I scrawled out this summer regarding Americans and class.


Poverty is both relative and absolute. In America, we have comparatively little absolute poverty. In other words, the bodies aren't piling up in the streets of every major city. However, we do have a great deal of relative poverty, and that's growing yearly.

I see two main problems with getting some focused effort to remedy class inequalities in this country. The first, and most obvious, is that the people in power tend to prefer the status quo. If it were otherwise, we wouldn't be having tax cuts which benefit the rich over the poor, the cap on FICA would be increased, and any number of other things, including the decoupling of health insurance and employment. The second is that class is such poorly defined term, resulting in all sorts of ludicrous claims.

Forbes recently had an article which discussed the "Upper Middle Class Dream" and what it costs to live well in the U.S. Their estimates for the Northeast ranged from a household income of $215k/year to $500k/year.

That's right, folks. Half a million dollars a year. Their idea of "upper middle class" includes 2005 Lexus and BMWs, ownership of a beach house, and yearly vacations to Palm Beach, Paris, and Val d'Isere. The kids attend private colleges and a private junior high.

Upper middle class? Yeah, right. According to my copy of _Statistical Abstract of the United States 2004-2005: The National Data Book_, the 80th percentile of household income in 2002 is $94,469. The 95th percentile is $164,323. The 97.7th percentile is $200k. This means that the Forbes range for upper middle class ranges from the 98th percentile to the 99th percentile after adjusting for inflation. I'd suspect that $500k/year may exceed 99.7% of the households in this country, considering that 1.3% of households exceed $250k.

Let's call a spade a spade, folks. $215k a year is upper class. That's a level of wealth 90% of the familes in this country can't even realistically dream about.

But this illustrates what I think is a problem to any class dialogue in this country. Everybody and their dog is middle class in this place. It lets rich people think that they're not like those aristocratic European nobility snots across the pond, and it lets poor people think that they're part of the mainstream. A lack of dialogue on class also allows the poor white to blame affirmative action for their woes, which really shouldn't come as a surprise considering how much of this country's politics have relied on playing off the poor white against the black.

If we're talking about class in terms of money, I propose starting off with a much easier basic definition. Let's call the bottom 20% lower class, the next 20% lower middle class, the third 20% middle middle class, the fourth 20% upper middle class, and the highest 20% upper class. The upper 5% is clearly rich. As of 2002, the percentiles were as follows:

20th: $24,000
40th: $41,440
60th: $63,000
80th: $94,469
95th: $164,323

Keep in mind that this is class by income, not assets owned. Those in the bottom 40% tend to own comparatively few assets such as stock, real estate, etc., while those in the upper 20% may well have extensive assets they could draw on besides their job salaries.

These numbers don't adjust for cost of living. If we put in a cost of living adjustment of +/- 10% on the salaries, we can probably get some reasonable level of locality adjustment. However, that's a very blunt adjustment.

Out of my high school friends, I know only one who(adjusting 2002 dollars and salaries back to 1990 dollars and salaries) would be considered lower middle class on this scale. Everyone else, including me, was at least middle class(my family would move from middle to upper middle about the time I was a sophomore). Most of my friends were upper middle class or better, and over half would be considered upper class by this standard. A nontrivial percentage- perhaps a quarter- would clearly qualify as rich.

In other words, we led a charmed life in more ways than one. Next post tomorrow: My attempt at looking at class by more than a simple income-related measurement, or, why I think I should be considered upper class, even now when I'm between jobs and looking at a yearly income of maybe around $25-35k. And why most of my friends should be considered the same regardless of their current income and debt status.
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