What middle-class living is REALLY like.
Hillary Clinton claims that "middle class" means people who make less than $250,000 a year. That's wildly out of touch, according to the US census, which pegs the median American income at $53,657. Making $250,000 puts you slap in the top five percent of American wage-earners.
While people at the "bottom" of the middle class scramble even harder to make it, the five percenters are vaulting up the income ladder. They don't need a tax break — they need a tax increase.
My husband teaches public high school. Thanks to the vagaries of geography, we live in a place where a public school teacher's salary sets us firmly in the middle class. We don't lack for much but neither do we have much. Hillary is nuts if she thinks people making a cool quarter of a million a year live the same way we do.
We own our home. We were lucky; we had help on a down payment. We like our house. Because of our area of the country, it's nicer than many people with the same income could afford. Not that it's flashy; it's a ranch with three bedrooms, a backyard big enough for dogs to run and kids to play.
But we have linoleum floors our den. Financially, we have to renovate it ourselves and we just don't have the time. We might have two refrigerators, but one came with the house and the other is broken. We worry about the cost to fix it.
This is what the real middle class means: worry.
When our hot water heater broke, we faced a bill that ran into the thousands. Luckily, our parents paid it. Otherwise we'd have needed a loan (which is hard to get right now), or just dealt with cold showers. We hope our cars won't seriously break. We have something put away but it's not much. God forbid a transmission croaks.
That's a different life than people making $250,000 a year live. Their annual salary, first of all, tops the cost of our house. No one hesitates to give them a loan, on the off-chance they need it. But they shouldn't if they live within their means.
They can pay contractors to fix their house. Their new cars (they don't buy used) are less likely to die on the highway. If they do, it's a minor annoyance. They write a check. They likely have an extra vehicle to drive while the car's in the shop.
Moreover, if you make $250,000 a year, you don't mow your own lawn. You probably don't always clean your own house. And despite exorbitant babysitting rates, you don't cancel weekly date night. You can afford someone to watch your kids, no matter how many you have and how young they are.
In other words, you can farm out unwanted tasks. Your money absolves you of certain responsibilities.
Not us. Our median income family needs to mow its own lawn, thank you. A task that takes considerable time, and hence, doesn't always get done. Because of that, my backyard hovers just this side of jungle. We can't afford a maid, so cleaning — even deep cleaning, like baseboards and ovens and under couches — falls squarely on the heads of my husband and me.
Cleaning takes time. Deep cleaning takes even longer. That's why the floor beneath my couches remains an uncharted treasure trove of toys, books, and assorted childhood detritus. Date nights are few and far between. We have friends to watch our kids, of course, but we don't want to take advantage of them too often.
Because we don't want to impose on friends and don't have the money to pay babysitters, Target trips always involve three kids. We're lucky: we don't have to shop at Walmart. We wear a lot of Target, too, or thrift store clothes. We don't want to support oppressive garment industries but we can't afford American Apparel.
We can afford some organic foods, which is nice, but no way can we go all-organic, or no GMO, or no high-fructose corn syrup. Well, maybe we could do the last, but it's not realistic: neither the shopping nor the cooking, which takes up time we don't have.
We could, of course, buy all our food at stores that don't stock non-organic food, or food with HFC, but we can't afford those places. A new Whole Foods came to town, but that didn't mean much to us. Two hundred bucks is a substantial grocery run for us, not two meals and some quick snacks.
This isn't the case for the five percenters. They're the ones filling their carts at Whole Foods; they're the ones lecturing us on the dangers of GMOs and the benefits of expensive cleanses. They wear American Apparel and never wear clothes off the Target rack.
These people only shop at the mall. They can do more than ogle that purse at the Coach store — they can buy it, without saving up or cutting corners. Put it on the credit card. Cha-ching! We move in different economic circles, these five percenters and I. They don't gulp at eighty dollar jeans.
Let's not pretend. Hillary didn't buy her power suits at Target. She didn't even get them at the mall. They're bespoke, because she's on another plane of existence from the rest of us. A former member of the Walmart Board of Directors, Hillary's one of the vaunted one percent. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that $250,000 a year seems like middle income.
She's removed from our petty concerns, our lawn mowing and Target shopping, and date night postponing. The real middle class is scrambling. We need a tax break.
And reality check: If you're shopping at Whole Foods with your Gucci purse, you don't.