Unfortunately Class Matters

luxury / poverty - photo by Carmen Kong

We are fooling ourselves if we think money and class do not matter. There are many people outraged that banks got bailed out. There are many people who can’t understand why millionaires and billionaires got rescued by the U.S. tax payer but average citizens are foreclosed on every day. Causality in complex situations is rarely simple but certainly a contributing factor is that the non-rich have a tendency to look at the rich as higher class citizens. Of course it’s not shocking that we live in a society where money defines the value of a human being. This dynamic has probably plagued our species since our earliest days. What is shocking is the level of delusion on display by many when discussing this subject.

If we acknowledge a tendency in our species to look up to the wealthy and look down on the poor then it becomes easier to understand how the banks got bailed out – now making record profits – while at the same time millions of citizens are out of work and losing their homes to foreclosure. It’s an attitude of “they had it coming” when we look at the average citizen. To be sure, there was and is plenty of outrage in this country towards the bank bailouts but where is the matching outrage towards income inequality? Where is the matching outrage towards the outsourcing of jobs – allowing companies to make larger and larger profits? Where is the matching outrage towards the millions who have lost their homes in this recession? Yes, you keep hearing about these things, but it doesn’t seem like much is being done about it.

For at least the first year of the financial meltdown more blame was lobbed at homeowners instead of the predatory lenders. This actually makes sense when you go back to the idea that collectively we tend to look down on the poor and look up to the rich. There was a pervasive narrative that people were trying to beat the system – to buy more house than they could afford. But you could look at it from the flip side and say lenders were taking advantage of people who are not good with finances. Yet even with that statement some may still put the blame on the people instead of the lenders. Why is it a bigger problem that people didn’t understand the financial documents they were signing? Why isn’t it a bigger problem that there are powerful companies and wealthy individuals willing to take advantage of the unsuspecting?

All you have to do is look at TV shows, movies, commercials or marketing in general to see our tendencies when it comes to money and class. Much of what is on display in the media represents upper middle class lifestyles and we are to believe it represents much of the country. But I’m afraid to say the statistics say otherwise. In 2010 the U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1%. That’s 46.2 million Americans making $22,314 or less for a family of four, or $11,139 or less for  individuals. For the middle class, the median income has changed very little in 30 years when adjusted for inflation. In 2010 it was $49,445, down from $49,777 the year before. The median income for the middle class has increased only 11% from 1980 to 2010 while the income of the richest 5% increased by 42% during that same period.

The first step is recognizing that there is a problem. We have yet to even complete that step.

Unfortunately Class STILL Matters


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