Middle class is extinct
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 25, 2013 06:00 am
Middle classism – the new opiate of the masses: it is what we are encouraged to strive for. It is that goal for which we labour hard, sacrifice for, gaining status within our society, our community. But how do we know if we have made this grade? How do we know if we have become successful?
Arising out of the industrial revolution, the middle class became the management class of society, managing the businesses and wealth between the business owners and the workers. They also rose to become that middle to upper-tiered leadership within government. Defined by being well-educated property owners, usually with a university degree, they became a distinctive level and feature of our society in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the latter part of the 20th century becoming its boom times.
But like all things in life, change does occur, and there has been a paradigmatic shift in how our economy functions, and the hallmarks of middle classism has, itself, become affected. The recent release of earning figures for Canada now tells a different tale – a tale of a diminishing middle class.
A university education was once the key to upward mobility, and thus it became the ambition and goal of parents to have their children attain this objective. And with an increase in demand came an increase in supply, and universities quickly expanded. But with an outpouring of graduates from universities, so there was devaluation of that very education in that it no longer guaranteed one a job.
So, did all of those potential jobs disappear? To a certain extent, they did. Because of the increased costs of living, and higher debt burdens, many of the “baby boomers” continued to work longer, keeping those positions that would have naturally opened up for upcoming graduates. Thus, many graduates now found themselves underemployed and resentful of this fact, as they felt they should have been doing better in life than they were.
Many of those traditional middle class jobs also went overseas with globalization and the downturn in the economies both in the 1990s and again in 2008. Just as earlier recessions saw restructuring in industry to increase production and reduce costs, sending blue-collar jobs overseas, advancements in technology and those same desires to cut costs saw the export of white-collar jobs too. Thus there has been a decrease in the need for those non-productive management positions, a need that, with a growing appetite for austerity within government, will see further reductions in these positions.
With fewer management positions available, and a diminishing return on a university education, what does this mean for the status of “middle class?” Well, it too must adapt if it is to stay relevant within our society. Middle classism has also become about the display of material status, based upon the communities that we live in and specific postal codes. Beautiful homes, nice cars, and expensive toys have become the signs of the middle class in the 21st century, and the definition has shifted to something else. Now middle classism seems to reflect how much debt one can carry, but this is a precarious situation, and another serious downward shift in the economy could seriously bring down the whole house of cards. It is either this or we begin to accept that the goal of middle classism has passed by, and we begin to live within our means, forgoing on the miasma of false hopes that it once offered.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.