Since the Great Recession hit, it seems like news report after news report has been filled with doom and gloom. The jobs are disappearing, the middle class is shrinking, and we’re never going to be able to go back to how things were before. All of these points are fair, but they’re also not entirely grounded in the truth, either. Jobs will always disappear but new ones will replace them, and the rate at which this change happens will also always change. And we can’t ever go back in time, too, as doing so would cause stagnation. But the third point, a disappearing middle class, has validity: however, recent reports are showing that middle class jobs are finally starting to rebound, giving Americans hope in starting a new chapter.
Defining What the Middle Class Is
Most of us have some sort of vague notion of what constitutes the middle class: it’s roughly being able to afford a car, go on a vacation every year or so, not worrying about paying the bills, and maybe even think about buying a house. A middle class wage earner’s expectations are fairly modest, as they understand that putting a BMW and Mercedes in their driveway wouldn’t be a terribly smart choice, and that living in certain zip codes would stretch them too much beyond their means. But their expectations are also greater than the impoverished, as the middle class generally don’t have to choose between a meal and a roof over their heads, or working at a job where they could be replaced by a fresh-faced teen the next day.
Narrowing down the middle class is a little trickier than that, though. People in this category generally make upwards of $770 a week, which is almost $20 an hour. It’s not a fantastic rate and it works out to about $40,000 a year, which is enough to get rid of a great deal of the headaches associated with a lack of income (e.g. bill collectors, not being able to afford health insurance, etc.).
One of the greatest casualties of the Great Recession was the middle class job, the types of jobs in the manufacturing, sales, transportation and construction industries. When those jobs went, it was next to impossible for Americans to bootstrap themselves up into the upper class, for the glut of remaining jobs was in industries like fast food and retail. These are jobs that paid at or close to the minimum wage level, which was not nearly enough for an individual to sustain themselves on.
Triumph of the Middle Class
Since last year, middle class employment has enjoyed a steady rise, with the growth measured at 1.5% this year versus just 1% in 2012. And even despite the statistics, 35% of Americans polled in a recent Gallup poll have said that now is a good time to get a solid, middle class job, marking a definite shift in attitude toward the recovering economy. Further backing this up is wage growth: of the new jobs created in the middle class this year, the 1.3 million private sector jobs pay an average of $867 a week, versus $843 for the 117 million jobs that already existed in the private sector.
The rebound effect of the rising middle class is how much more money is going into the economy. During a recession, a person’s natural inclination is to close their wallet and keep their dollars unspent, which doesn’t help the economy recover (it actually slows recovery down). But now that more middle class jobs are being created and people are earning decent wages, they’re feeling more secure in their present and future, and are more willing to spend money, which helps the economy get even stronger.
If we divide the middle class into two sections, those who earn between $35,000 to $50,000 and those who earn between $50,000 to $75,000, then we can see just how much attitudes have changed regarding the economy. For those in the latter category, the higher earners, their confidence has grown to its highest level since November of 2010. But for the former category, the ones in the middle class on the lower end of the earning spectrum, their confidence is at its highest level since December 2007.
Lastly, another measuring tool used to gauge the return of the middle class is the Employment Cost Index (ECI), which takes into account how much the costs of labor for a business has changed, and it’s measured four times a year. It’s used to measure the rate of inflation and employer-paid benefits, and has a direct role in determining if salaries should rise or fall. Higher wages are a stronger indication of healthier businesses who can afford to pay their employees more, while a lower number means they’re struggling to keep their bottom line at a good level. In the middle class jobs, like sales and office, natural resources and production, the ECI jumped 2.1% in the second quarter compared to the year before. When compared to just 1.2% in service jobs and 1.9% in management and professional jobs, it’s further proof that the middle class is continuing to grow.