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The WMail Newsletter Essays
Volume III - Issue #23: May 2002

"The Class System of America"

        While class may be defined in other ways in other countries or societies – India has not yet rid itself of the caste system, Britain still gives credence to its aristocracy, etc. – in the United States we are talking about Economic Class. Note that the structure is not linear, i.e. one can be a member of the Middle Class while also being a member of the Criminal Class (perhaps dealt with some other time).

        This is the category you don't want to be in. There are sub-categories, which clarify the distinctions inherent in this lowest Economic Class in America. Basically, this is the land of Non-Survival, where tomorrow's needs require all of today's effort, a numbing scramble to keep from moving backward, to keep from dying of starvation or disease.

        Lowest of the Underclass are the indigent, those unable to feed and clothe themselves – the Homeless Class: people living on the street or in their cars or in somebody's garage or basement, without basic shelter or food. This also includes people who have nowhere else to go, stuck in decrepit nursing homes until they die from neglect or ill health, also the mentally ill, and residents of the prison system.

        Just above the Homeless Class are the Jobless: people who pay for their basic needs from welfare and other government programs, 'under the table' employment, day labor – the guys standing across the street from Home Depot, the guys who hang advertising on your doorknob – and people who are temporarily or permanently outside the ranks of the Full-Time Employed.
        A recent strategy in several professions is the intentional creation of part-time workers. Dentists have been doing this for more than a decade. Each dentist hires a dental hygienist or RDA for two or three days a week as an 'independent contractor', eliminating the need to provide government-required benefits, such as full-time employees receive. The hygienist is then required to hire out to another heartless dentist, to fill out the workweek. Employee #1 works for dentists A and B, employee #2 works for dentists B and C, round and round in a life-threatening game of musical chairs.
        These hygienists work a full-time schedule but do not have a full-time job, and since the majority of dentists, especially those hiring new employees, support this practice, the worker has no hope of getting any such benefits while pursuing their career.
        Many dot-com and high-tech companies also design themselves to offer only part-time work in many categories: even though pay for programmers is high, they are 'on contract' and job benefits are non-existent.
        Then there are the Illegals (Alien or otherwise), who will do anything to survive, even giving up future benefits, such as Social Security, since their sweatshop job is cash-only and the existence of their income is not reported. They also typically give up all protection by the government, such as OSHA safety standards, overtime pay, freedom from discrimination & harassment and such.

        This Economic Class also has sub-categories, the lower of which may make less money than some of the Underclass. The work may be full-time, but federal minimum wage these days is $5.15 per hour {$7.25 in 2009), with overtime only after 40 hours per week. That is $200 a week gross, which is just $10,700 a year – before deductions ($290 in 2009). Thus the explosion of two- and three-income households, which has sucked away so many low-paying jobs.
        I found a chart at {link dead} that shows the U.S. minimum wage has gone DOWN 35% in 'constant dollars' (buying power) since Tricky Dicky and Milton Friedman and George Shultz devalued the dollar by ending the Bretton Woods Agreement (1969-1973). NOTE 11/2003: That page is gone, this page at Oregon State displays the matter nicely: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/anth484/minwage.html.

        Meanwhile, the employment statistics lie: The Federal Labor Department compares jobs filled with total workers to figure the Unemployment Rate. With so many working two or three jobs per family or household, counting individual workers and comparing that figure to total workers produces an entirely different statistic.

        Call them 'Minimum-Wage Working Class', and the next sub-category 'Workers With A Decent Job'. This is full time, above minimum wage employment, with overtime and vacation time and sick time, maybe a pension or 401K or ESOP program. The old rule of thumb is 'making your age': if you are 40, then making a $40K annual salary constitutes success. Even with inflation, this is a good measure.
     You could survey your friends and co-workers on this, but the Culture-Structure has taught you that this should be a secret: ignorance is bliss, divide and conquer. Ask the receptionist, the janitor, and the grocery clerk. They will think you rude, but maybe one or two will tell the truth; if any lie, it will be to give an inflated number, not a lesser.
        But the minimum wage is not enough, requiring multiple jobs per household. Thus the Living Wage movement, often legislated for contractors to the government. I say that anyone making less than $10 per hour is not making a Living Wage, even for a single individual with no dependents. Workers making minimum wage and supporting a family will never see a glimpse of the ephemeral American Dream.

        The Labor Department provides only median income data. (I love it that the report is 'Consumer Income': not Citizen or Resident or Employee or Worker, they only track consumers!) Average hourly wage, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is around $14.50, so that gives $30,000 per year. The median income (1997) is given as $55,000. So it is difficult to define the parameters of The Decent Job. So I'll draw the line a different way.

        A century ago, the Upper Class was defined as folks who were able to travel (as in the household would move to the country place, or the family would take their steamer trunks to Europe on the SS Barataria, on The Tour) =AND= they had servants. The Middle Class was defined as folks whose lifestyle included only one of the two; the Lower Classes had neither.

        These days, you can define the Middle Class as those who own their home; the Upper Middle Class are those with more than one home. Most people in America these days either rent their dwelling space or are paying off a mortgage, so that would be where I would draw the line. The Home-Owner Class in America includes people who own their dwelling outright, even if a tar-paper shack on the wrong side of the tracks.
        They have to pay property taxes, they have to feed themselves, but they will not be 'on the streets' unless something dire happens, like the end of Social Security (which is the original purpose of the Social Security program). The renter or mortgagee, however, cannot live on Social Security: they will have to choose between food and shelter, or stand in line with hundreds of other hungry folk to find a Decent Job or settle for what they can find below that, if they are not too decrepit or unschooled to do the work.

        In Los Angeles these days, every job opening attracts 200 to 300 applicants, which belies the 'recovery' touted by Alan Greenspan. Coupled with the decreasing value of the dollar – 1970 value halved by 1980, halved again by 2000; see Tricky Dick comment above – the situation is dire. Upward mobility, the cobwebbed American Dream, is no longer available. Everybody is moving backwards.

        Here I use my Benchmark, mentioned elsewhere. The President of the U.S of A. got a raise with George Dubya's inauguration, to $400,000 per year. With perks, such as travel and embassy dinners and Camp David vacations, I suggest a Benchmark figure of $500,000 – half a million dollars annual income for the Leader of the Free World.
     So anyone who earns or receives MORE than the Benchmark is a member of the Wealthy Class in America: anybody who makes more than the incumbent President.

        At the top of this category is the Oligarchy, who are defined as the one percent who own fifty percent of everything in America. Same for other countries, the phenomenon is worldwide. The Oligarchy in the U.S. increased their assets by 40% in the last 15 years, which means that the 99% non-Oligarchy population suffered a reduction of an equal amount.
        The Pareto Principle is useful in a lot of ways: "Eighty percent of the people do 20% of the work, and 20% of the people do 80% of the work." In defining the Oligarchy's co-conspirators among the Wealthy Class, this principle suggests that 20% of the people then own 80% of everything.
        Which leaves 80% of the population fighting over just 20%, which is exactly what the Oligarchy wants. The average citizen is too scared, too busy trying not to lose ground, holding onto what little we still have with cramped fingers, so that we do not have any chance to organize, to form unions to redress grievances, to demand efficient government and products that work and entertainment that does not insult.
        We have no chance in America and elsewhere for the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression; freedom of every person to worship [a deity] in his own way [or not]; freedom from want; and freedom from fear.

        The populace is afraid – afraid of losing their wretched jobs, of SUV drivers behind them going 80 mph, of sickness with no insurance, of random violence, of cops and politicians and clerics gone bad, and don't forget global warming and the crazy weather. The Oligarchy is determined that economic movement is DOWN-ward only, toward serfdom, then they not only won't have to pay benefits, they won't have to pay wages. Taxation without representation will flower anew – the majority stopped voting long ago anyway. The infrastructure falls apart, anarchy reigns, mobs riot in the streets. Philosopher Ayn Rand's prediction of the collapse is fulfilled.

        The American Dream is already replaced by Economic Nightmare.
        Time to wake up, people.

[copyright 2002 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved]

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