Saturday, November 15, 2008

Income disparity and "Middle Class" assumptions

By LindaBeth

(Part one of several.)

I had wanted to write about the concept of the middle class and "who counts" back when McCain was criticizing Obama's tax plans and Palin was self-labeling as a middle class American to explain why those media elites are against her, you betcha. At the same time, I have been teaching Sociology 101 for the first time (after majoring in it in undergrad), which obviously involves a lot of discussion over class, economic inequality, the meritocracy myth, the race-class connection, among other things that are the elephant in the room when addressing income, poverty, and taxation in the United States.

But teaching kept me super busy at the time, so I missed the opportunity to write about the realities of American income back then, but I have been given another chance with a recent Factcheck.org update, raising the issue of taxes and the poor that I want to discuss. I also thought it would be the perfect lead-in for my new blog, "Speak Truth to Power," which will focus on social justice and issues of institutional inequality that I am interested in, but seem out of place on Don't Ya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Smart Like Me?, my gender-sexuality cultural analysis blog.

So without further ado, I want to delineate a few thoughts about income, the "middle class," average Americans, and economic disparity. This first part goes back to those campaign moments that bothered me so. The second part takes a look at who exactly are the middle class. And the next parts will touch on issues of taxation, poverty, entitlement, and socialism that came up in the campaign and will not die.

1. During the first presidential debate, McCain made the following comment:

I know that the worst thing we could possibly do is to raise taxes on anybody, and a lot of people might be interested in Senator Obama's definition of "rich." (you can simultaneously read the transcript and watch the video here; clip begins at 11: 25 and the exact comment is made at 18:55).

According to Factcheck.org:

  • Obama's plan will cut the taxes for 95% of families with children and 81.3% of households overall. (citation)
  • "Obama's plan would raise taxes only on individuals making more than $200,000 a year, or couples or families making more than $250,000." (citation)
  • "Those reporting adjusted gross income of more than $250,000 to the IRS are projected to make up 2 percent of households next year [...] Joint returns with more than $250,000 adjusted gross income and single returns with more than $125,000 adjusted gross income together are estimated to make up 3.1 percent of households next year." (citation)

So when McCain says we'd be surprised who Obama considers rich, I wonder who he considers rich, if it's not the mere 3.1% of households making $125,000+ per capita (adult).

But the even bigger question in my mind is that if McCain thinks that singles/families with incomes of $125/$250k are not rich, then who does he think the poor or even the middle class are?

2. Sarah Palin at an October rally (via The Washington Independent):

I know what Americans are going through,” she said after the stock markets took another dive last week. “Todd and I, heck, we’re going through that right now even as we speak — which may put me again kind of on the outs of those Washington elite who don’t like the idea of just an everyday, working-class American running for such an office. (emphasis added)

And Palin at the vice-presidential debate:

Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic [...] We're going to fight for the middle-class, average, everyday American family like mine.

The Palins earned about $250,000 in 2007, according to The Washington Post. Their family net worth is over $1 million.

Is this what a "middle-class, average, everyday American family" looks like? Who a "working class" American is?

See Sunday, November 16th for part two: "Who is the Middle Class?"

(Cross-posted to
Speak Truth to Power.)

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