The Middle Class Collapse

"I am 61 and hope to retire in four years, but that seems unlikely. I currently work three part-time jobs, [but] I am worse off than in anytime in my working life," a woman from Rohnert Park, California, recently wrote to Senator Bernie Sanders. The email is one of hundreds the senator has received. As headlines blare news of bank profits falling and Wall Street stocks declining, the less-noticed story has been the collapse of the middle class in America.

"I am 61 and hope to retire in four years, but that seems unlikely. I currently work three part-time jobs, [but] I am worse off than in anytime in my working life," a woman from Rohnert Park, California, recently wrote to Senator Bernie Sanders. The email is one of hundreds the senator has received. As headlines blare news of bank profits falling and Wall Street stocks declining, the less-noticed story has been the collapse of the middle class in America.

A man from Huntington Beach, California wrote Sanders to say, "I was a design engineer with 25 years experience in hi-tech design development. My job was outsourced and I could not find a job in my field. I worked as a car salesman and now sell floor coatings. I am 60 years old, my savings is gone, my 30-year-old children are college educated but still live with me because they are still paying their college loans and they can only get low paying jobs. We live from week to week and consider ourselves fairly lucky because there are people who are less fortunate than us."

A man from Mills River North Carolina said, "I grew up in a middle class home, but I don't think I'll ever have my parents' standard of living, although theirs was not a fancy lifestyle."

"I don't know where to begin," wrote a woman in Vermont. "I am a single mom of 3 teenagers. One is in college; the other 2 live with their dad. I travel 100 miles a day round trip for my job. The rising cost of gasoline has made me seriously think about leaving a job that I love. The prices on most food have risen quite a bit, so I don't buy as much as I used to. I never entertain because who can afford it? I never eat out."

Altogether, some 600 emails to the senator have struck the same chord.

Now, the mainstream media has begun to reflect the reality that the standard of living for millions of Americans has gotten worse.

"Are you better off than you were eight years ago? For a growing number of middle-class Americans, the answer is 'No.' Middle-class earnings aren't keeping up with the cost of living. Rising gasoline and food prices, health bills, child-care and education costs are leaving less to set aside for retirement. With the housing market in turmoil, even the asset many had come to count on -- the value of their homes -- is threatened. It isn't just a reflection of the current economic slowdown and rise in commodity prices: Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for several years," The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

Also over the weekend, The New York Times noted the decline in wages that once was a measure of middle-class status. "Once upon a time, a large number earned at least $20 an hour, or its inflation-adjusted equivalent, and now so many of them don't. The $20 hourly wage, introduced on a huge scale in the middle of the last century, allowed masses of Americans with no more than a high school education to rise to the middle class. It was a marker, of sorts. And it is on its way to extinction… A residual of that golden age remains, notably in the auto industry, but here, too, wages are falling below the $20-an-hour threshold — $41,600 annually — that many experts consider the minimum income necessary to put a family of four into the middle class."

To read more emails to the senator or to send him an email about the economy, click here.

To read The Wall Street Journal article on the middle class, click here.

To read The New York Times article on the disappearing $20 an hour wage, click here.

To watch the senator reading some of these emails on the floor of the U.S. Senate, click here.