Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is the Middle Class Shrinking? I think not!

Recently, I read an article about the "shrinking middle class". Just what is "middle class", anyway? And what was the mind of the writer in saying that the middle class is disappearing? Was it a "sky is falling" article? Or a way of warning us about certain trends? Will readers take it as a foregone conclusion? Or might such articles - unfortunately - serve to stir up bitterness among the so-called "poor" against the so-called "rich"?

You know, reading about this topic made me think of a thought I used to have sometimes, when I was a single person in my early twenties. Was I poor...or was I rich? I remember having one can of beans left on my shelf, and the joy of cashing my paycheck and buying food. But I didn't think I was poor because I didn't quite go hungry. And I had shelter. It may have been a converted storeroom with concrete walls, but it had a bathroom with a shower, as well as a sink, stove, and mini-refrigerator. It was really all I needed. But I know there were people who thought I was poor. Did their thinking it make it so? Did my thinking that I had all I needed make me rich?

Over the years, I have known a number of people whom some would consider rich. Some of them would make a lot of money when they worked, but then - yes, even before the recession - they would have periods of time between contracts. I remember one family who ate a lot of beans and popcorn between jobs...but most people would have considered them rich. At the same time, they were among the many generous people I have known.

Some of the people who are richer in income are business owners who provide jobs for many employees. Shall we try to reduce the income of the "rich" in order to help the "poor"? If we make laws or taxes that cause the business owner to have to pay his employees less - or pay less employees - how will we have helped the "poor"?

Perhaps the best thing we can all do is respect one another. When we don't have a lot of money, we can still treat those who do with respect (and sometimes we might be surprised if we knew what that person's finances really look like). When we do have more money, we should still treat those who make less with respect - as equal human beings. Every honest job is as good as another.

Today, more of us are aware that anyone can lose a job. Anyone can be unemployed or underemployed. And, on the other hand, everyone has the potential to grow. Sometimes someone just needs a good word or a "hand up" (and yes, sometimes someone might even need a handout, given with respect).

So I've been talking about "rich" and "poor", but I started out talking about middle class. I think the middle class attitude is what helped to make our country great. But I don't think it's really about how much money we make, or what kind of car we drive, or how much house we have (or apartment or mobile home). I think the middle class mentality that helped make our country great embodies what I was saying about mutual respect for one another, regardless of one's current circumstances.

When I was a child, I remember something my mom so often said if she wanted to instruct me in proper behavior: "That's not classy." Swearing, bathroom talk, not treating people with courtesy. None of those were "classy". Being classy, as she presented it, had nothing to do with money. It had everything to do with attitude, respect, and and the golden rule. Is the middle class shrinking? I think not, as long as we remember to do unto others as we would have them do to us.