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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Everybody in America Thinks They’re Middle Class

Over at Washington Monthly, Steve Benen expresses confusion about Mitt Romney’s claim yesterday morning on MSNBC that “Somebody who’s fallen from the middle class to poverty, in my opinion is still middle class.”  Benen asks

I’m just not sure what Romney means when he defines “middle class.” As he sees it, even if someone falls into poverty, he or she is still middle class? In what universe does that make sense?

Actually, I think I understand perfectly what Romney is saying here, and it is the reason many Americans are still resistant to the straightforward complaints being made by the Occupy movement:  in America everybody considers themselves to be “the middle class.”

The truth is, Americans don’t really think about class in a truly economic way, but in a social status, lifestyle kind of way.  This is why, even though the median household income in the US is only around $50,000, professionals making several hundreds of thousands of dollars or more each year still consider themselves middle class – they’re not rich like the people they see on the TeeVee, who can charter private jets and take expensive vacations.

It is also the reason why the people who are increasingly falling behind economically probably enjoy hearing that – regardless of their actual economic standing – Romney still recognizes that they are “middle class at heart.”  For these people, if they used to have a house and a nice paying job but were then laid off and lost the home in foreclosure . . . well, they still don’t consider themselves really poor.  Not at heart.  ‘Cause then they’d be losers.

Like I said, it is one of the reasons I think a lot of people hate to recognize the growing wealth disparity that exists in this county – because if they did then they would also have to recognize that they’re on the losing end of that growing gap.

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