Monday, June 19, 2006


The Worrying Class

The spirit of the middle class teeters between anxiety and aspiration even in the best of times. These days though, I think we're tipping more towards the former. What with Iraq, soaring gas prices and a superficially healthy economy that boasts growth and low unemployment, but which also features job insecurity, flat wages and rising consumer debt, worry becomes us. Americans don't - or can't - stay at their jobs as long as they used to. The average length of time in one job has changed between 1983 and 2004 from 5.9 to 5.1 years for males aged 25 and over, from 7.3 to 5.2 for male workers aged 35 to 44, and from 12.8 to 9.6 years for males aged 45 to 54. Although shorter spans of employment at one place can suggest a vigorous economy with lots of opportunity, the constant change by itself can be stressful. Besides, why move even when times are good if you're not fundamentally discontent? Another worrisome issue is the increased volatility in income, which has brought rapidly shifting fortunes to individuals as well as rising gaps in compensation across the society as a whole. Family income volatility has gone up 50 percent in the last two years and is now three times greater than what it was in the 1970's. Even when they remain employed, middle class workers often lose a substantial portion of their previous incomes when they change jobs. For those who experience such a drop, the current median decline is 40 percent, compared to 25 percent thirty years ago. On the other hand, many economists view rising income inequality as proof of the power of an education, since most of the higher paying jobs go to those with college diplomas and advanced degrees. To cushion the blow of downward mobility, as well as to enhance access to higher education, some reformers suggest such schemes as education tax credits, wage insurance and even endowing newborns with $500 bank accounts so they can begin saving for retirement as soon as they draw their first breath. Check out the link below for a discussion of middle class economic worries and how they might be alleviated.

"Anxiety Attack" from U.S. News & World Report

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