Even though I heard the term “disappearing middle class” over again and the statistics clearly show the trend worsening, I still did not have a clear idea of how it happens, until I started to watch some documentaries.
In the above clip, two middle-aged men and his family in the US are introduced. Both held stable middle-management positions until a few years ago. Now they work part-time earning (almost) minimal wages, $8 an hour. They live in a motel room with their wives and kids. One guy has two kids, the other six (!).
Or take this short clip about life in post-crisis Greece showing people lining up for warm food, growing vegetable on rooftop, taking in foster children, and living off 200 Euros per month in a 7+ members household. My previous notion of the happy yet lazy Mediterranean people sucking money out of EU taxpayers has vanished.
“It is the small business owners who suffer,” says a Greek food shelter staff, and that sinks my heart and gives my back a cold shudder, myself being a teetering small business owner. You took pride in the fact that you had been the lord of your small kingdom, and now you need to ask for food. Even peasants can support their family by working for their landlords!
The hire-on-demand culture in the developed world used to provide a safe cushion for everybody by giving pseudo job rotation mechanism and an illusion of equal opportunities. What the cases exemplify is the fact that the “rotation” is not there any more. The karmic circle of career flow has now been replaced by a one-way traffic: highway or hell.
The interviewee’s positive attitude when they reflect on their past, present, and future was also remarkable, and even frightening a bit. The ability to adapt to any situation and to make the most out of it is one of the traits that makes us proud of being humans, but I was still shocked to see how they talked about their previous lifestyle as if describing someone else’s. They might have “succeeded” in replacing their old identities with new ones, which probably was the only reasonable option, far deeper than they realized.
In both the US and Greece people are showing remarkable resiliency to survive the day and still keep their dignity intact. But there is also a clear realization in everybody interviewed that the old world they once knew is never going to come back. They clearly have hope, but now the hope-for-comeback has been replaced by hope-for-hope.
Falling from middle class into lower class or beyond does not happen between generations, as I previously (and idly) imagined. The switch happens overnight when you receive the pink slip, and your new class will be ingrained into you in a matter of months or years. When they say it can “happen to anyone,” I now believe it. The only reason I could still pretend the world hasn’t changed is because the changes and adjustments happen so rapidly.