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Middle Class Slide: Falling out of the Middle Class

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A Depression Era photo of people standing in an unemployment line. Courtesy National Archives

A Depression Era photo of people standing in an unemployment line. Courtesy National Archives

Published on: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring, Sentinel Lifestyle Reporter

Barbara Morrison, author of “Innocent: Confessions of A Welfare Mother,” slid from middle class into poverty when at age 24, her marriage ended and she became the single parent of a one-year-old and the baby growing inside her belly. Unable to support herself with a job or move back in with her parents and with her ex-husband refusing to pay child support, Morrison resorted to being on welfare.

“I thought I had no choice but to go on welfare because no one would hire me because I was pregnant,” said Morrison. “None of the jobs that I qualified for would pay me enough to pay for child care or minimal living expenses.”

“I was always struggling to make ends meet,” said Morrison of her experience of being unemployed and on welfare. “After I paid for rent and heat and utilities, I had about $20 for the whole month, $20 and that had to cover everything that food stamps didn’t cover. So it doesn’t pay for detergent or soap or toilet paper or any of that stuff. It had to pay for gas when I had a car. It had to pay for bus fare when I didn’t. It had to pay for clothes. It had to pay for shoes. It had to pay for everything that you would spend money on, $20 a month for me and two kids.”

Morrison stayed on welfare for a few years, grateful to be able to survive until she could work again, this time as a teacher in Baltimore City Schools. Morrison is not alone in her previous struggle. Delegate Aisha Braveboy thinks the middle class is sliding into working class.

“Unless you are wealthy, this economy tells you everybody needs to be working so everybody’s working class,” said Braveboy. “I think that’s what we’re finding in Prince George’s County because our families don’t have a cushion. When one parent loses a job, they’re potentially in jeopardy of losing their home because for the most part, they based it on having two forms of income and without one of those incomes that becomes a huge problem for the family to sustain themselves in the home. So I think even for those who believe they are in the middle class are just a few steps away from foreclosure. But I think we’re all finding that we’re all mainly working class. We need to be working to survive.”

Delegate Braveboy is known for working to help families who are facing foreclosure. According to Braveboy part of the reason why minorities face foreclosure is because they were targeted for mortgage scams. While the federal government has done a lot to protect individuals as best they can through protection laws, Braveboy encourages minorities to educate themselves about these scams and approach buying a home as they would making an investment.

“This is an investment and these are the factors that you have to consider in determining whether or not it is a smart investment: Will I see a return on my investment? Is this investment going to suck out too much of my money? Will I be able to pay for tutoring if child needs tutoring? You have to factor all of those things in and determine whether or not you can invest,” said Braveboy.

Rashawn Ray, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Research Associate for Maryland Population Research Center at University of Maryland in College Park shared his thoughts on the middle class slide in this economy.

“Job loss can obviously lead to downward mobility. In addition, unemployment, furloughs and government shutdown can also impact a family’s ability to maintain their current standard of living,” said Ray. “Oftentimes, we solely focus on job loss without necessarily focusing on the fact that people may still be employed but not able to garner the same amount of money that they were able to garner 15 years ago in a previous market. In addition to that, in this particular area in Prince George’s County and the broader DMV, the government shutdown which recently happened and there have been others over the years that also impact families.”

When asked to define the term “middle class,” Ray said, “I’ve done a lot of research on this and class status is normally defined by a combination of a person’s education, occupation and income. Yearly salary is normally dictated by geographic location. So living on the East or West Coast compared to the South or Midwest, takes a higher salary to be in the middle class because the cost of living is higher. Cost of living includes: housing cost, taxes, the amount of money you pay for food, childcare and other basic necessities that becomes more expensive say in an area like Prince George’s County than it would be say rather than for several years in Indiana or in Tennessee.”

It’s been said that hard work pays off but does not always lead to success and wealth. Ray shared his expert opinion on this matter.

“It would be great if hard work and diligence and resiliency was all that was needed. I think most Americans would be in the middle class and most Americans would be wealthy. But unfortunately, that’s not the case,” said Ray. “And what happens with jobs is studies show that roughly 75 percent of people who get jobs get the job because they know someone…Even if people went to college and they have advanced degrees which we know in this particular area being one of the most highly educated areas in the country people have good jobs, people make good money meaning in terms of their salary but oftentimes, these indicators don’t translate into the fact that people are still living paycheck to paycheck.”

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