Another guest post for the Formerly Middle Class series I have been randomly working on this summer, today’s poster asked to remain anonymous since they are someone that I know personally and we have shared friends and colleagues.
Economy got you down? Realizing you are only holding onto middle class status by a thin string? Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you! As for me, I am enjoying the last few days of summer break with my son so posting is not a priority at the moment but I will be back soon.
One of the things I find as someone who used to consider myself middle class (and now often struggles to get a payment in before the power company shuts off my services) is that as the economy has tanked, so has the regard for certain skilled professions. Including my own. Which, as you can imagine, cuts into my income and propels me even farther from being truly middle class in terms of income.
We see this with non-profits that need skilled college-educated folks, which struggle to find funding now (whether from grants or private donors or otherwise) and get swept aside, leaving gaps in necessary areas like aiding the homeless, providing health services to the poor, giving educational services to those who need them, etc. And leaving a bunch of people who were probably barely middle class to begin with without jobs at all.
We see it with consultants who, while I often make fun of (because they seem to make a lot for doing very little sometimes), no longer find it as easy to locate companies willing to pay them for their insights and opinions.
We see it with PhDs who now must go find trades or do hourly work in fast food or gas stations or something because getting a job in a university, much less tenure, is harder than finding a virgin in Hollywood or Miami.
We see it in journalism and other writing/editing venues (and this is the area in which I work), where companies and organizations are less willing to pay for people who know what they are doing, and are more willing to let people with no experience (but who have lots of time because they’re out of work or stay at home/work at home spouses) take up the task. And then I see these very same people popping up on discussion boards asking other people how to find sources, locate critical information and otherwise put together a story, something I’ve spent more than 20 years mastering.
And so on.
There are no “safe” occupations. There are no truly “recession-proof” jobs. Sure, there will always be a need for IT folks because we are so computer- and Internet-dependent. Yes, people will always have a need for nurses or plumbers or electricians. But any occupation can find itself in a position where people will forestall paying for services from those folks or where there might one day be a glut of workers in the field relative to the jobs available.
I also realize that at the layers above and below the middle-class, there are professional occupations, trades, working class jobs, and others where people have been hard hit.
But the difference is that above the middle class level, chances are you have more resources to tap for longer to weather the storm. Or you have better stuff to sell and then downsize your lifestyle to something more manageable. You will also likely be cast in a better light when you go looking for loans and such to restart your life.
And below the middle class level, while it is no cake-walk by any means, there are services, private or public, to catch you more often. The closer you get to being truly poor, the more likely you can get things like healthcare (maybe for your kid if not for yourself), food and other essentials from agencies or programs of one sort or another.
But in the middle class, it has too long been assumed that we’re all OK. But the fact is that most of us didn’t notice the slow erosion of our career areas. Nor truly appreciate how our benefits, if we had company-based jobs, were being whittled away so that our minuscule raises really amounted to decreases in our real income year after year after year.
What I find, for better or worse, is more than a little resentment that I have been part of a socioeconomic class that provides the lion’s share of tax revenue in this nation and has for a very, very long time, and yet I am one of the people who has to go through the most hoops to get help and be among the least likely to receive a break.
And now, I find myself with a career I am no longer certain I can rely on solely (or maybe even pursue long-term), wondering if regaining my “middle class status” is even a realistic notion anymore. I know I’m not alone in this, and I wonder how many of us who once thought ourselves solidly middle class now face the very real possibility that we may need to pursue the less-lucrative trade jobs or the kind of jobs that once were the purview of high school and college students, just to keep ourselves out of the poorhouse.