Can A Family Of Four Survive On A Middle Class Income In America Today?

When I was growing up, $50,000 sounded like a gigantic mountain of money to me.  And it was actually a very significant amount of money in those days.  But in 2010 it just does not go that far.  Today, the median household income in the United States for a year is approximately $50,000.  About half of all American households make more than that, and about half of all American households make less than that.  So if your family brings in $50,000 this year that would put you about right in the middle.  So can a family of four survive on $50,000 in America today?  The answer might surprise you.  Twenty years ago a middle class American family of four would have been doing quite well on $50,000 per year.  But things have changed.

You see, despite government efforts to manipulate the official inflation numbers, the price of everything just keeps going up.  The price of food slowly but surely keeps moving up each year.  The price of gas is far higher than it was 10 or 20 years ago.  Taxes just keep going up.  Utility bills just keep going up.  Each year middle class American families have found themselves increasingly squeezed as their expenses have risen much more rapidly than their incomes.  

So just how far will $50,000 go for a middle class American family of four today?  Well, $50,000 breaks down to about $4,000 a month.  So how far will $4,000 a month stretch for a family of four in today’s economy?….

First of all, the family of four needs some place to live.  Even though house prices have come down a bit recently, they are still quite expensive compared to a decade ago.  Let’s assume that our family of four has found a great deal and is only spending $1000 a month on rent or on a mortgage payment.  In many of the larger U.S. cities this is a completely unrealistic number, but let’s go with it for now.

Next, our family of four has to pay for power and water for their home.  This amount can vary dramatically depending on the climate, but let’s assume that the average utility bill is somewhere around $300 a month.

Our family is also going to need phone and Internet service.  Cell phone bills for a family of four can balloon to ridiculous proportions, but let’s assume that our family of four is extremely budget conscious and has found a package where they can get basic phone service, Internet and cable for $100 a month.  Most middle class American families spend far more than that.

Both parents are also going to need cars to get to work.  Let’s assume that both cars were purchased used, so the car payments will only total about $400 a month.  If the vehicles were purchased new this number could potentially be much higher.

If our family has two cars that means that they will also be paying for automobile insurance.  Let’s assume that they both have exemplary driving records and so they are only spending about $100 a month on car insurance.

Our hypothetical family of four is also going to need health insurance.  In the past, families could choose to go without health insurance (at least for a while), but now thanks to Barack Obama all American families will essentially be forced to purchase health insurance.  Health insurance premiums are absolutely skyrocketing, but let’s assume that our family has somehow been able to find an amazing deal where they only pay $500 a month for health insurance.

Our hypothetical family is also going to have to eat.  Let’s assume that our family clips coupons and cuts corners any way that it can and only spends about $50 for each member of the family on food and toiletries each week.  That works out to a total of $800 a month for the entire family.

Lastly, the parents are also going to need to buy gas to get to and from work each week.  Let’s assume that they don’t live too far from work and only need to fill up both cars about once per week.  That would give them a gasoline bill of about $50 a week or $200 a month.  Of course if either of them lived a good distance from work or if a lot of extra driving was required for other reasons this expense could be far, far higher.

So far our family has spent $3400 out of a total of $4000 for the month.  Not bad, eh?

Wrong.

We haven’t taken federal, state and local taxes out of the paycheck yet.  Depending on where our family lives, this will be at least $1000 a month. 

So now we are $400 in the hole.

But to this point we have assumed that our family does not have any credit card debt or student loan debt at all.  If they do, those payments will have to be made as well.

In addition, the budget above includes no money for clothing, no money for dining out, no money for additional entertainment, no money for medications, no money for pets, no money for hobbies, no money for life insurance, no money for vacations, no money for car repairs and maintenance, no money for child care, no money for birthday or holiday gifts and no money for retirement.

On top of all that, if our family of four has a catastrophic health expense that their health insurance won’t pay for (and health insurance companies try to weasel out of as many claims as they can), then our family of four is not just broke – they are totally bankrupt.

Are you starting to get the picture?

It is getting really, really hard out there for middle class American families these days.

And unfortunately, many American families now have at least one parent that is not working.  In some areas of the nation it just seems like there are virtually no jobs available.  For example, at 14.3%, the state of Nevada now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.  Michigan (which had been number one) is not very far behind.

But even those Americans who are able to find work are finding themselves increasingly squeezed.  For many Americans, a new job means much lower pay.  Millions of highly educated people who once worked in professional positions now find themselves working in retail positions or in the food service industry.  Many are hoping that the economy will “turn around” soon and that they will be able to go back to higher paying jobs, but the truth is that the U.S. economy is simply not producing enough good jobs for everyone any longer.

So where did all the good jobs go?  Well, millions of them have been shipped off to China, India and dozens of other nations around the globe.  Today the United States spends approximately $3.90 on Chinese goods for every $1 that China spends on goods from the United States.  A Chinese factory worker makes about a tenth of what an American factory worker makes.  And China continues to keep their currency artificially low so that jobs will continue to flow into China and so that we will continue to run a massive trade imbalance with them.

In a previous article, “Winners And Losers“, I went into much greater detail about how globalism is destroying middle class jobs.  We are rapidly moving toward an America where there will be a small group of “haves” and a very large group of “have nots”. 

The middle class in America is going to continue to shrink and shrink and shrink in the years ahead.  Not only are both parents going to have to work to pay the bills, but both parents in many families will be forced to take two or three jobs each just to make it each month. 

So what do you think?  Do you think that a family of four can make it on a middle class income in America today?  Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts….

Winners And Losers

When you mention the word “globalism” to most people, they think of something that is going to happen someday in the future.  But the truth is that globalism is already here.  At this point we essentially already have a one world economy.  Goods and services flow across national borders more freely today than at any other point in human history.  A major economic event on one side of the world instantly affects financial markets on the other side of the world.  Labor has become a truly global commodity.  You can go to the exact same fast food restaurant or buy the exact same iPod on six different continents.  A whole host of international trade agreements are making national borders economically irrelevant.  Today our “big box” stores and shopping malls are jammed full with products that have been made overseas and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find American-made products.  The reality is that it has now become undeniable that globalism has arrived and we are now part of a world economy that is integrating at lightning speed.  Unfortunately, all of this globalism has created some very clear winners and losers.  But most middle class Americans are in such a deep sleep that they don’t even realize that they are the losers.

The sad truth is that as work has become a global commodity, middle class American workers have been placed in direct competition with the cheapest labor in the world.  For years the U.S. economy was so strong that nobody really noticed that it was bleeding thousands of jobs every single month.  But now that 14 million Americans are unemployed and the U.S. economy is literally hemorrhaging jobs people are starting to sit up and take notice.

Let’s take a look at one recent example.  Ford Motor Company has just announced the closure of a facility that produces the Ford Ranger in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Approximately 750 good paying jobs are going to be lost.

But isn’t Ford doing better these days?

Sure.

Don’t people still need Ford Rangers?

Of course they do.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty even offered Ford a multi-million dollar incentive package full of tax cuts and job creation incentives to keep the factory going.

Basically, Pawlenty did everything except get down on his hands and knees and beg Ford to keep the plant open.

But it wasn’t good enough for Ford.

So where is Ford going to make those Ford Rangers now?

Well, the statement issues by Ford did not say, but it did offer some clues….

“Ford continues to concentrate on implementing the plan we initiated four years ago to streamline our plant operations and better leverage our global platforms. At this time, the Twin Cities Assembly Plant does not fit into our global manufacturing strategy.”

Did you notice that the world “global” was used twice there?

In other words, Ford plans to move their factory some place where labor is cheaper.

But the truth is that this is happening in every industry.

Between 2004 to 2008, tire imports from China increased 215 percent by volume and 295 percent by value.

During that same time period, tire manufacturing in the United States fell by 25 percent.

It turns out that there are lots of people who are willing to make tires for near slave labor wages in China.

In our new “global economy”, American workers are just far too expensive.  So middle class manufacturing jobs are fleeing our shores at a staggering pace.

Since 1979, manufacturing employment in the United States has fallen by 40 percent.

Are you alarmed yet?

You should be.

The truth is that we did not have to merge our economy with nations like China.  China does not have the same minimum wage laws that we do.  China does not have the same environmental protection laws that we do.  In China, companies can treat their workers like crap.  As a result of open trade with the United States, scores of shiny new factories have opened all over China while once great manufacturing U.S. cities such as Detroit have degenerated into rotting war zones.  We continue to expand trade with China even though their communist government stands for things that are absolutely repulsive and has a list of human rights abuses that is seemingly endless.

But politicians from both parties swore up and down that globalism would be so good for us.  Now we have created a network of free trade agreements that would be virtually impossible to unwind.  The following are just some of the free trade agreements in force around the world right now….

The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)
The Central American Integration System (SICA)
The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA)
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
The Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Agreement (CISFTA)The G-3 Free Trade Agreement (G-3)
The Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA)
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
The Southern African Development Community (SADC)
The South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA)
The Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP)

Of course the most important trade organization of them all is the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is constantly working to expand world trade and further integrate the economies of the world.

But the American people don’t understand all this.  They just want the U.S. government to do something to create more jobs. 

But whenever the U.S. Congress tries to do something nice for U.S. workers like raising the minimum wage or requiring companies to give them more benefits it ends up backfiring.

Why?

Because those things make American workers even more expensive and it gives companies even more incentive to send our jobs overseas.

We have recklessly merged our economy with economies around the world that are far less developed than our own.  Unless this thing is reversed, it is inevitable that the standard of living of American workers will be forced down until it approximately matches workers in the rest of the world.

Already, millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs are being replaced by low-paying service jobs.

The U.S. Labor Department’s 2009 Occupational Employment and Wages report found that retail sales, cashiers, general office clerks, food preparation and service workers, and nurses were the occupations with the highest levels of employment in 2009.

Retail sales and food service workers?

Those are jobs for 17 year old kids.

But today apologists for this flawed system tell us that we just need to suck it up and take two or even three low paying jobs because things will never go back to how they used to be.

So has globalism created any winners?

Of course.

As I noted yesterday, the folks down on Wall Street are doing quite well.  New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says that Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.

The reality is that the exploitation of very cheap foreign labor has enabled many large global corporations to make insane amounts of money.  Things are very good if you are at the top of the food chain.  According to Harvard Magazine, 66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.

In addition, our elected officials are doing quite nicely these days.  According to an analysis by The Hill, the 50 wealthiest members of the U.S. Congress saw their collective fortunes increase 85.1 million dollars to $1.4 billion in 2009.

Yes, it is very profitable to be part of America’s ruling class.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of average Americans continue to suffer.  Recently a user on Unemployed-Friends named Jim shared his tragic story….

My Name is Jim and I was laid off last June.

My whole department was outsourced.

There was talk of it and when I heard it from my boss (the CFO) when I went home I started to send out resumes.

Then the day came when the layoff came.

So in 1.3 years I have sent out 160K resumes, between blasting, send out from job boards and e-mailing my resume blindly to companies HR departments.

I was on 5 interviews.

I want to work badly.

Everyday I send out resumes but lately I have been getting depressed, I found out who my real friends and family are now.

I have been kicked down substantially in these 1.3 years.

I feel like I’m staring into an abyss of no jobs, will I ever work again? IDK.

When I used to talk to “Friends” and “Family” they all say “Things will get better” “Don’t worry”, Yeah right.

I feel so alone and worthless.

I wish I had at least 1 GOOD friend but it seems like no-a-days the dog eat dog world is worst than ever.

I’m NOT suicidal, not at all.

Then I found this site.

I have been saying we are in a depression for 2 years but nobody listened and people have dismissed what I have said.

The sad thing is it seems like we are on the verge of an economic collapse or worst.

So that is my story

Americans like Jim don’t understand why they can’t get jobs anymore.

They feel like failures, but it is actually the system that is failing.

Globalism is not good for middle class American workers.

Democrats can continue to pass law after law that attempts to help American workers, but unless something is done to protect American jobs they are going to continue to be shipped overseas.

Republicans can pass tax break after tax break, but unless those tax breaks are linked to jobs the ruling elite and the big global corporations will just pocket those tax breaks and will continue to ship jobs overseas in order to make bigger profits.

What both parties should be doing is trying to figure out ways to keep American jobs in America, but at this point both parties are completely sold out to globalism.

Globalism was the official policy of the Bush administration and it is the official policy of the Obama administration.

Unless something dramatic changes, the U.S. economy is going to continue to lose huge numbers of jobs and people like Jim are going to continue to wonder what in the world happened to their lives.

But in 2010, most Americans are so busy drinking beer, watching sports, keeping up with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and obsessing over the new cast of Dancing With The Stars that they aren’t even aware that things are literally falling apart all around them.

It is really sad.

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