Four middle classes from Pew Research

There has been some really fascinating and informative discussion in the comments recently about education, class and child rearing, among other things.  And it turns out a few years back (2008) Pew Research split up the people who call themselves middle class in America (53% of Americans) into four groups, which mostly explain some of the crosstalking going on.

That’s the link to the report and discussion, and there’s also a link to download the data used as well at the end.

But their four classes map to some assumptions that I know were governing my view of “middle class”.  The labels they use are Top of the Class, Anxious Middle, Satisfied Middle and Struggling Middle.

The “Top of the Class” is what I’ve always thought of as middle-middle class or very lowest entry-level upper-middle class.  Two married professionals with a kid or two, at least one has a power career, but both might.  Often reliant on mom having credentials and often higher than median income to navigate their complex systems for schooling and career entry/access.  Pew thinks of this class as primarily male, but that may well be because it includes some part-time working wives or wives whose job is to “stay home” but really navigate the system full time.

The Anxious Middle is where our household is, and I think Pew doesn’t understand that it’s probably where most of your IT-worker households are represented.  This group can earn well, but mostly doesn’t crack 100K nearly as often as the paired-off professionals do.  And IT is a historical-quirk industry, many of the men in it are painfully aware that they simply could not earn at that level in a pre-IT world and might struggle to even marry, much less earn enough to comfortably support a family.  So there’s a constant status anxiety to go with the volatility within the industry, where it’s hard to lock in a job for more than a few years at a stretch and there’s endless pressure to reskill or retrain.  Lower down the income band for this class is very likely the remnants of the blue collar workforce with solid but lowish earnings and great benefits. This is also where some of the struggling SAHM households are, where Dad makes what both consider “middle class” money, but they are constantly crunched and pinched on one income.

The Satisfied Middle is young people with decent-paying (40k or so) jobs for a single person and retired folks who live a kingly or queenly life on their 2k-3k/month pensions.  Almost half this group receives a pension or Social Security income.  And what’s left are happy because their incomes do them very well as single and childless folks or merry widows, etc.

The Struggling Middle is basically striving single mothers and married low-income families who don’t use much welfare.  This is where a fair number of the people who reject food stamps but make very little and easily qualify are.  And another chunk of the struggling SAHMs.

It’s been nearly a decade since this analysis was done, but it helps clarify where people are when they think of middle class.  I was clearly thinking only two of these four groups were middle class at all.


A surprising example of women choosing money over status, childcare edition.

There is a strange local phenomenon where I live (whitopia) in which women working desk jobs are taking lower pay and fewer hours than those jobs paid and provided during the housing bubble and even through the crash, while women offering nanny or babysitting services are asking for higher wages and more hours, and getting them.

It’s strange in light of the class warfare astroturf around paying fast food workers $15/hr as a starting wage because it’s the women in those underpaid desk jobs who are happy with lower and lower wages and expectations of full time availability for 10-15 hours per week who are often the biggest fans of such rhetoric.  But they are currently not demanding better conditions for themselves.  It’s the nannies and the babysitters who are, I’ve heard the beefing from local women who are shocked at having to finally pay normal wages to get someone to watch your kids in your house when they thought an adult woman should be happy with 3-5 dollars an hour, if that.

It’s been very interesting seeing this split of working women where the ones doing “just childcare” are getting pretty good wages ($13-25/hr), modest benefits and full time hours if they want them while the women with office jobs are struggling to get $10-11/hr with no benefits and often barely 10 hours a week.  Obviously the latter are happy with the status of working in an office at all vs. having a real paycheck for changing diapers and playing with three year olds all day.  But especially given the way things often work in whitopia, it’s interesting to see a group of women actively negotiating for and receiving better wages on the open market without government intervention, and for work that is considered extremely low status in America.

Conservatives could start their own lower-cost construction companies

Conservatives, instead of complaining about Latin American immigrants taking all the jerbs, could be developing a possible alternative approach to the current Latin American immigrant domination of construction (mostly Mexican, but increasingly other countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador).  One way to go would be to take all those young homeschool guys who need to figure out some way to earn a living and have them do it up collective style.  Many of those young men come from families of 5 or more and are used to the rack and stack approach in a household.

Since a lot of the complaints among the commenters to that blog are about undercutting and working cheaper, one could utilize one of the few existing pools left of American whites who are used to living more densely and achieve many of the same cost efficiencies.  In fact, one could potentially get it classified as a ministry and have third parties eat the workers’ comp expenses and still get the benefits of the lower hourly wages.

Or one could keep complaining on dissident right blogs while sitting at a cheap desk made in China using a computer also made in China from parts mined in politically unstable countries in a house built by those horrible, horrible Mexicans and El Salvadorans.

I’m not saying this suggestion is flawless, it’s a suggestion after all, but it’s got more practical meat to it than the endless whining and zero action that is pretty much the sine qua non of the dissident right.  The regular right’s sine qua is ineffective and almost exclusively political action.  Doing for self wasn’t just a slogan, it was a way to think about clan and ethny and effective collective action in an individualistic, atomized society that was already too far in that direction decades ago.

Not quite what I was thinking would be my 100th post, but that’s ok!


Mindless defense of business interests doesn’t help conservatives


In this article about ridiculously high property taxes in Austin (excerpted or copy-pasted from a paywalled newspaper, it’s not entirely clear), the commenters are all lol liberalz iz dum, but don’t see that it’s commercial property owners who are milking the system to get Other People’s Money to pay for their services on the backs of single family homeowners.  This type of reflexive implicit defending of business interests doing the same thing environmental and social justice groups do in large cities is a big obstacle to conservatives having a shot at normal life.  Conservatives should actually be putting on their small government hats here and asking why it’s ok for commercial property owners to game the appraisal system to avoid millions in taxes.

Instead, every link I found referencing the original paywalled article was from a conservatively oriented site and consisted of laughing at the homeowner who was not really that silly.  SFHs should not be bearing disproportionate costs of local services at all, even if they vote for increased services.  Yes, I said it.  Even if someone votes for more taxes, they shouldn’t bear a disproportionate amount relative to their own property’s market value.  This is what’s going in Austin.  Commercial interests (developers and medium to large corporations) are skating by and paying taxes on a fraction of their market value and all these supposed conservatives can say is that “a woman is stupid, hahaha”.  A system where voting homeowners have 40% of the property but pay 60% of the taxes is not really a time to tribally laugh at liberals.  It’s time to maybe be serious and ask why property taxes seem to be a type of tax that routinely has this kind of death spiral and regulatory capture.

Conservatives also might pause to ask why Republicans are the ones pushing all those exceptions through in Austin, though the exceptions for commercial interests also happen in blue states and counties.   I also find the lack of concern for individual home owning citizens very telling coming from people who are generally fulsome in their praise of single family households.

ETA 6/4/14: the paywalled article got unlocked after the mainstream right wing (Hot Air, Instapundit and the like) got the tribal bit in their teeth and rushed to gloat collectively.  So that happened.

The absence of men due to war informs 20th century feminism

One klaxon-loud reason women wanted more hard economic power in the 20th century was because it was freaking hard to feed themselves under patriarchal restrictions on the type of work they could do when the patriarchs and patriarchs-to-be were all lying in pieces across various battlefields.

Patriarchy is fine when you actually have patriarchs.  When you don’t, it becomes harder to justify or enforce the strictures.  The astonishing loss of high-earning, high-status men in the Anglosphere during the World Wars had a lot of knock-on effects regarding female behavior that go utterly ignored by historically ignorant conservatives.  One of them is the whole “single middle class+ women haring about on mission trips” thing.  They went on missions because they couldn’t marry.  Their pool of men lay dead or hopelessly crippled beyond ability to produce, much less provide for a family.

One really can’t understand the grumpy feminist push for female independence without understanding the very real destruction of, well, patriarchal human capital represented by the shocking losses of the World Wars.