Saturday, November 19, 2011

Not Poor, But Close

File this one under "Well, duh!"

The New York Times asked the Census Bureau to take another look at findings with respect to the financial status of working Americans and the results are a little different than what the Census people expected. Many Americans who consider themselves middle class are just one unexpected bill away from catastrophe. These people may own a house (which they probably couldn't sell if they had to) and a car (but not a new one), and may be working full time, but they are still living paycheck to paycheck and just barely scraping by.

When the Census Bureau this month released a new measure of poverty, meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.

After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure. ...

Demographically, they look more like “The Brady Bunch” than “The Wire.” Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round. ...
[Emphasis added]

While the conservatives at AEI find the term "near poor" offensive and hardly scientific, the term certainly does convey how many people who bought into the American dream are feeling. Parents have had unemployed or underemployed adult children move back in with them. Many cannot afford even minimal health insurance for themselves or their families. Most haven't seen a raise significant enough to cover price hikes at the grocery store in years. A broken leg or the need for a new roof will do them in.

Is it any wonder that the Occupy movement has struck a chord with so many of these "middle class" Americans? Or that they have become cynical about politicians who routinely get pay raises, yet can't find a way to right the dismal economic picture for their constituents?

I'm not sure just what the tipping point will be, but I do think some kind of implosion is near. I just hope I live long enough to see it.

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