What happened to the middle?

Middle Class Aspirations

I’m about 40. When I was a kid I didn’t understand how money worked, but I knew my dad worked a lot and my mom took care of the household. Now the word household can mean a lot of things.

She went to night school and graduated with a BA while working a part time job typing college papers. She was very good at punctuation, document layout, customer service, and selling.

I helped her type a bit. And I learned a ton about how to treat customers and how to earn money. She used this bit extra to do extra stuff with her kids, to pay for a second car, to throw birthday parties, and to go out to eat once in a while.

My dad had a good job as an associate professor at a community college. It brings in a decent income and he managed to maintain a few somewhat expensive hobbies as well as save for retirement.

I suppose this is middle class. One worker supporting a wife and four children in a three bedroom house. I found out sometime later what his take-home pay was and what the mortgage was on the house that was bought in 1971. Generally, the mortgage payment was about 5% to 10% of his take-home pay.

The other bills at the house left the total at 20%. This left about 80% of the money each month to plan for retirement and generally live a normal life.

As I sit here today, my rent is about 30% of my take-home pay and my other normal bills (not including cell phones and internet which I’m old enough to consider optional) take about another 50%. After I factor in student loan payments and groceries, I have no way of planning for retirement and many times we have to wait a week or so to buy groceries.

I never go out to the movies or to dinner. I don’t take trips. I don’t have my kids in any clubs or sports at this time. I don’t waste any money at all on frivolous activities. I turn down invitations to go out with friends so I can save money. I have no credit cards and I owe no credit card debt. I paid off all of my outstanding medical bills in the last few years.

My only credit burden, and it is quite a burden, is the student loans still dragging behind me attached to a noose around my neck. Eight years of college, they told me, would be well worth the investment. I’m finding that it is mostly true since I doubt I’d be making what I am now without it. But student loans have gotten as bad as credit cards and mortgage fraud, it seems, and it isn’t only the modest 5% ish interest I was promised.

I’m a single parent with a good job in education, just like my dad had, but somehow things have changed drastically and the cost of living has become ridiculous compared to what it was 30 years ago.

I know some will tell me that a good chunk of it is that I live in California, where taxes and fees are among the highest in the nation. Yes, I have to agree, the stranglehold of the failed system in this state is fierce, but even accounting for  differences between this zoo and my much more competent and affordable home state of Texas, the difference is striking.

Where did the middle class go? I thought I was headed that way. I’ve been in my career for 10 years. I work hard. I’ve won awards. I’m one of the best at what I do. How come I can’t afford a barbecue pit or the steaks to put on it?

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4 Replies to “What happened to the middle?”

  1. I agree that a lot of it has to do with living in Cali, as well as the fact that you also have a lot of extra expenses for the kids that really add up I’m sure. Esp in the past year or so. I imagine it cannot be easy! But I have a feeling that things are going to start getting better and ironing out soon enough! =)

  2. This doesn’t address the larger issue, which you spell out hauntingly. But: one small thing: if your student loan interest rate is 5%, you’re getting screwed. Is it bank-held? Talk to a credit counselor (they’re free) and see if there are options. My loans are from the Ford Federal Direct program and my variable interest rate now stands at 2.11%.

    1. I had all of my loans (eventually!! that was a pain) consolidated to a direct loan consolidation. Having several loan companies to keep up with payments just wasn’t an option when I got divorced. Moving from 2 incomes to just mine back in 2005 really messed me up. I got behind on the payments and defaulted on one of them.

      Now that I’ve gotten them “rehabilitated” and “consolidated” it seems better but still quite a pinch. If there was never any interest added from now on, I’d be paying for 15 years. Geez I’ll be 55 by then. I guess I can have a student loan burning party instead of a mortgage burning one like in the old days.

      Thanks for stopping by and saying hi!

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