Think you’re middle class? Think again
While many people still call themselves middle class, they don’t live the lifestyle that their parents once enjoyed.
The "Leave It To Beaver" days of middle class culture are over.
Unlike your dad or grandpa, chances are that you will not spend 30 or 40 years at the same company and retire with a gold watch.
You probably won't live in a house with a white picket fence, surrounded by neighbours who are lawyers and doctors, like something out of a "My Three Sons" episode.
You may go to university, but the student loan and the interest it gathers will haunt you for many years afterward. Chances are, you might never own a house like your parents did, and if you do scrape together the down payment, you'll probably have a huge mortgage with no debt reduction in sight.
You may work part-time or on contract for many years before obtaining a full-time job — if you do obtain one.
And that job probably won't come with the type of benefits that your dad enjoyed, benefits like an RRSP and dental plan that ensures braces for all the kids.
* Gallery: What's causing the middle class to disappear
The middle class is disappearing, becoming a quaint old-fashioned idea that belongs to the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s consumer age. The "middle income" category has shrunk down to a minority, leaving only the super rich and low-income groups to dominate urban areas of cities in North America. It's a phenomenon felt around the western world, brought on by factors such as reduced wages, underemployment, race discrimination, and the high cost of living.
"Most of the people in our culture call themselves middle class and the reality is, they used to be in the middle, and now they are not," says David Hulchanski, professor of housing and community development, faculty of social work at the University of Toronto.
Hulchanski and a team of researchers conducted a major six-year study of census figures from 1971 to 2005 and found that, in a city like Toronto, the extremely wealthy and low-income groups swelled in numbers, and the middle-income group all but vanished. Interestingly, a very low-income group emerged in the suburbs (about 20 per cent of neighbourhoods), where very low-income groups did not exist in 1970.
"Back in the day, not all people were upwardly mobile, and yet when you were young you got a degree, you got a job, a starting job, and the prospects were good. You moved up. Now, the culture is changing.
"The term 'middle class' is still being used but it doesn't exist. We are getting poorer as a group," says Hulchanski. "The average household is not much better off in real buying power than they were 20 years ago."
University of B.C. lecturer Matt Hern recently released the book, Common Ground In a Liquid City: Essays In Defense of an Urban Future. It examines his belief that cities can be good and nurture sustainable ways of life if they are guided by policies that protect low-income groups from being swallowed up by market forces. Like Hulchanski, he sees affordable housing as crucial to the mix.
"It's a phenomenon called 'global city,' " says Hern. "There's the theory that suggests when you get this agglomeration of very high-income earners, what they attract is low-income earners. Because when you look at the way people migrate around the world, the people who really migrate are the rich people at the top end who can move around a lot, and the really low income. Desperate people will go everywhere. Think about downtown Vancouver. As more and more high-end condos move in there, you get top echelon earners. And those high-income earners require low-income earners, they need people to serve them coffee and clean their houses. So you have these two types of people together. But the people between those two echelons get peripheralized."
Those peripheralized people would be the so-called middle class, which has been all but eliminated from the scenario in downtown Vancouver. In Toronto in the 1970s, about two-thirds of the city was deemed middle income. As of 2005, the middle income had dropped to one third of the city. The majority of those who belonged to that middle class group have moved into the working class group. Those groups are moving further into the suburbs, where transit and public services are generally poor as compared to the gentrified urban areas.
"We know it is a national trend," says Hulchanski. "In the United States and a number of countries the majority of people in households are no longer middle income."
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