On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, you might hear phrases like “hardworking taxpayers” or “everyday Americans,” but the term “middle class” seems to be conspicuously missing from the candidates’ vocabulary, The New York Times reports.
The truth is, as the NY Times points out, why bother mentioning the “middle class” if this American social stratum is becoming extinct? The last 30 years saw income gains that slid into the pockets of the highest earners in the U.S.
The American dream — having just enough money for a suburban home, an occasional trip to Disneyland, retirement savings, and your children’s college fund — is becoming the American delusion, experts say.
“The cultural consensus around what it means to be ‘middle class’ — and that has very much been part of the national identity in the United States — is beginning to shift,” said Sarah Elwood, a professor at the University of Washington.
Today’s new economy is depicted as an hourglass: A large concentration of wealth at the top, a gargantuan number of low-paying jobs at the bottom and — if you can see it — a teensy, weensy portion of Americans who have achieved a happy medium.
American citizens who were once considered “middle-class,” broadly defined as household incomes of $35k to $100k, can no longer afford the full benefits of the middle-income lifestyle thanks to rising costs in the U.S. Household incomes have stagnated but the costs of middle-class security (e.g. child care, higher education, health care, housing and retirement) increased by more than $10,000 over the past decade.
“That has made the term, political scientists say, lose its resonance,” NYTimes added.
In order to appeal to Middle America, politicians have to use a little linguistic finesse.
Rand Paul, for example, uses a wordier way of saying “middle class,” but it works: “people who work for the people who own businesses.” Senator Ted Cruz uses “hardworking men and women across America” and Senator Marco Rubio says “millions and millions of people who aren’t rich.”
“It used to be ‘middle class’ represented everyone […], but now it doesn’t feel as attainable. You see politicians and others grasping for the right word to talk about a majority of Americans, ” said David Madland, managing director of economic policy at the Center for American Progress.
Today, you’ll need at least $150k to live the American Dream. That is more than three times the national median of $49k, the earnings of the former “middle class.”
Let’s just hope these presidential candidates are as adept in U.S. economics as they are at cunning wordplay.