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Old 05-27-2011, 01:40 PM   #21
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We are income-rich, but we feel middle class. No luxury cars, no Mc mansion, no boat, no country club membership, no designer couture, etc...
Imagine how you'd feel with a middle-class (median) income (about $50k for all households, $72K for a two-parent family)
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Old 05-27-2011, 01:50 PM   #22
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Youare way off if you rally think that a 2 paycheck $250k couple in almost anyplace that such a couple would exist are living a life of luxury.

Ha
I guess "luxury" is a pretty subjective term.

Here's a list of median incomes for four-person families by state. It looks like in most states $250k would be at least 3 times the median income. To me "three times the median" is high enough that it no longer qualifies as "middle". I don't know if it qualifies as "luxury".

http://www.cec.sped.org/Content/Navi...IAN_INCOME.pdf
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Old 05-27-2011, 02:01 PM   #23
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I've been impressed with Warren's efforts on financial regulations. So I want to keep the video separate from her work on the CFPB.

But, I wasn't as impressed with this lecture. IIRC, her contention is that even with two incomes, people can't manage "middle class" lifestyles today. IMO, that requires a different definition of "middle" than the one I would use.

She was writing and speaking these things at the top of the housing bubble and I can see where that was really putting pressure on people. Now that the bubble has burst, I'd say we have a big problem with enough full time jobs, but those people who have those jobs should be okay financially.
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Old 05-27-2011, 02:02 PM   #24
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Our highest income year was ~$220k. We lived in a nice, but not overly affluent, suburb of Minneapolis. I counted ourselves fortunate to be at that level of income and I certainly felt that we were "upper middle middle class"... or at least in a much better spot than the middle middle class.

That income level makes it easier to save, affords nicer (but not necessarily luxury) trips, and would make it possible to have a nicer car, or eat out more. Still, after maxing out our 401ks, one cheap car, paying on a $260k mortgage and $4k in prop taxes (midwest is cheaper than the coasts!), eating out a couple times a week at area places (paying between $15-$40 a person), and we didn't have a ton of extra income in the ol' budget.

I'd hate to have been my neighbor with the two new Mercedes leases otherwise living just like I was.

Also, no kids meant we didn't even have to discuss private school and a $40k/year tuition or any other luxuries like that

No boat either or yacht

eta: current income is $75k which is much closer to the median for Michigan, well below the median for my neighborhood, and likely below the median for the town.... buying real estate at the bottom lets in trash like us
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Old 05-27-2011, 02:02 PM   #25
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Imagine how you'd feel with a middle-class (median) income (about $50k for all households, $72K for a two-parent family)
It's not hard to imagine. It wasn't that long ago that our income was in that range and it won't be long before it goes back to that range (as soon as DW retires in fact). It does not change my perception: we were, are and will remain middle class.

Now if I had a government pension with a benefit of $250K+ a year, I would consider myself rich.
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Old 05-27-2011, 02:11 PM   #26
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I don't buy it. Is the middle class really worse off than they were 30 or 40 years ago? Better cars, bigger houses, better cheaper technology making life more convenient, more entertainment choices, etc etc. Jobs aren't particularly hard to come by for most (the 92% that are employed). Sure, times have changed. But were the good ole days really that good?
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Old 05-27-2011, 02:52 PM   #27
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Defining middle class continues to be a moving target same as salary. It really depends on alot of factors.
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Old 05-27-2011, 03:06 PM   #28
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Defining middle class continues to be a moving target same as salary. It really depends on alot of factors.
True.

For instance, I'm not "middle class" - I have no class at all ...
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Old 05-27-2011, 03:47 PM   #29
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I am not an American, so I cannot really comment on the squeeze of the American middle class. However, I guess I can say something about the Canadian middle class.

The way I see it, today's middle class just has more options available (or become more consumerist depending on how you look at it) to them compared to 50 years ago. Now your options are:

- put your kids in all kinds of extra-curricular activities after school (and drive them around in the family's second car - pay for sports/music equipment)
- give your kids cell phones
- go to disney land
- take overseas vacations
- watch all kinds of programming on a super duper cable package
- download all kinds of entertainment over your high speed internet
- buy two-three computers for the family
- buy two-four tvs for the family
- buy digital cameras
- buy personal digital music/video players (ipods etc.)
- send your children to an out of town/state school and maybe pay their expenses
- buy organic foods
- buy designer clothes and accessories
- buy brand new high tech appliances for the kitchen and laundry
- renovate the home with high end furniture and finishings...

This is just stuff off the top of my head. Progress has just led to so many options and stuff to buy. I mean I can imagine what a typical family did 50 years ago:

- sent their kids to play in the park (no extra-curr. activities)
- had one radio
- had one car and carpooled
- went camping or visited relatives for a vacation
- sent the kids to trade school or local college (reduced education costs)
- bought used furniture
- bought department store clothes
- bought used appliances
- skipped everything else on the list above.

The way I see it, the Canadian middle class is really suffering from an abundance of choices and lifestyles. We just have to pick the one that fits our resources.
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Old 05-27-2011, 04:09 PM   #30
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I am not an American, so I cannot really comment on the squeeze of the American middle class. However, I guess I can say something about the Canadian middle class.

The way I see it, today's middle class just has more options available (or become more consumerist depending on how you look at it) to them compared to 50 years ago. Now your options are:

- put your kids in all kinds of extra-curricular activities after school (and drive them around in the family's second car - pay for sports/music equipment)
- give your kids cell phones
- go to disney land
- take overseas vacations
- watch all kinds of programming on a super duper cable package
- download all kinds of entertainment over your high speed internet
- buy two-three computers for the family
- buy two-four tvs for the family
- buy digital cameras
- buy personal digital music/video players (ipods etc.)
- send your children to an out of town/state school and maybe pay their expenses
- buy organic foods
- buy designer clothes and accessories
- buy brand new high tech appliances for the kitchen and laundry
- renovate the home with high end furniture and finishings...

This is just stuff off the top of my head. Progress has just led to so many options and stuff to buy. I mean I can imagine what a typical family did 50 years ago:

- sent their kids to play in the park (no extra-curr. activities)
- had one radio
- had one car and carpooled
- went camping or visited relatives for a vacation
- sent the kids to trade school or local college (reduced education costs)
- bought used furniture
- bought department store clothes
- bought used appliances
- skipped everything else on the list above.

The way I see it, the Canadian middle class is really suffering from an abundance of choices and lifestyles. We just have to pick the one that fits our resources.

I don't think you got the point here. Even though people are doing this the total spend on these things is still significantly less than dollar adjusted costs of those items in the past.

For example 1 tv today costs 1/10 of the cost of a TV in the 50's. Yes we have Cable and Internet, but that is less than the adjusted costs of just a phone line in the 50's.

Yes we eat out a lot more, but the cost of those meals is less than the grocery costs in the 50's.

What has happen is our fixed housing costs are out of control and thats why the middle class are in a massive squeeze.
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Old 05-27-2011, 04:19 PM   #31
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How about interest paid on debt? What proportion of middle class incomes is spent on interest to purchase cars or pay off revolving credit?

I believe that part of the problem is that too many people get into debt way too early in their lives. If they grew up in the middle class, they want all the middle class trappings from the get-go and are willing to make payments to get them. How many kids starting out would go without a computer, cable or satellite TV, the internet, and a cell phone (with unlimited minutes and texting)? How many are willing to drive a clunker car or get their furniture from the Goodwill until they have the CASH to buy at middle class levels? How many want to live in the really nice apartment complex instead of one that may be more suited to their level of income?

Yes, there are those who are devastated by an illness or job loss, but I think there are many who just overextend themselves from the get-go.
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Old 05-27-2011, 04:30 PM   #32
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This is just stuff off the top of my head. Progress has just led to so many options and stuff to buy. I mean I can imagine what a typical family did 50 years ago:

- sent their kids to play in the park (no extra-curr. activities)
- had one radio
- had one car and carpooled
- went camping or visited relatives for a vacation
- sent the kids to trade school or local college (reduced education costs)
- bought used furniture
- bought department store clothes
- bought used appliances
- skipped everything else on the list above.
Just as a matter of record, my family was definitely middle-middle class. I was a kid more than 50 years ago. Using us, and our neighbors as data, every thing you say above is wrong. Though we did often entertain ourselves after school, my Dad paid for me to go to a judo dojo during high school, still during the 50s, and several summers but not all we got to go to camp. My father supported a wife, 4 children, his MIL and MIL's sister. All the kids went to parochial school for which he paid tution. They did have one car, until about 1960, then 2, and often newer cars than many here report. We had one TV, a "hi-fi" record player, and enough clock radios to have them scattered all over the house. We had a yearly vacation usually to a nearby lake, but rarely camping and never sponging off relatives. No one of his 4 kids went to trade school, though 2 of the 4 went to nearby universities and lived at home during that time. They never bought anything used, and never bought anything shoddy.

Something you did not mention above, but really improved his quality of life- he never did DIY stuff, other than interior painting. He had a handyman, a very good one, for jobs, remodeling etc around the house and yard, and a mechanic for cars. We children had to help out with childcare, yard maintenance, occasional outdoor painting jobs like fences. We also did some of the more unskilled jobs in the kitchen- salads, some sauces and of course dishwashing. After I was off at college they even got a dishwasher.

I would like to make a meta-statement. There is a lot of very unifomed bs on the internet, passed out as fact. An opinion does not equal a fact.

Ha
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Old 05-27-2011, 04:46 PM   #33
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Just as a matter of record, my family was definitely middle-middle class. I was a kid more than 50 years ago. Using us, and our neighbors as data, every thing you say above is wrong. Though we did often entertain ourselves after school, my Dad paid for me to go to a judo dojo during high school, still during the 50s, and several summers but not all we got to go to camp. My father supported a wife, 4 children, his MIL and MIL's sister. All the kids went to parochial school for which he paid tution. They did have one car, until about 1960, then 2, and often newer cars than many here report. We had one TV, a "hi-fi" record player, and enough clock radios to have them scattered all over the house. We had a yearly vacation usually to a nearby lake, but rarely camping and never sponging off relatives. No one of his 4 kids went to trade school, though 2 of the 4 went to nearby universities and lived at home during that time. They never bought anything used, and never bought anything shoddy.

I would like to make a meta statement. There is a lot of very unifomed bs on the internet, passed out as fact. An opinion does not equal a fact.

Ha
What oneils posted is a pretty good reflection of my growing up middle class in the 60-70's in Canada. Its not the 51st state of the US - although it looks more and more so than it did. I blame it all on cable and the internet.

DD
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Old 05-27-2011, 04:53 PM   #34
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And once people grew up with outhouses and a cave man might be a middle class cave man if his tribe had an average hunting ground.

Perhaps, instead of saying the middle class is disappearing, we might be better off saying that the standard of living of the middle class is declining or less than projected expectations.
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Old 05-27-2011, 04:57 PM   #35
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Just as a matter of record, my family was definitely middle-middle class. I was a kid more than 50 years ago. Using us, and our neighbors as data, every thing you say above is wrong. Though we did often entertain ourselves after school, my Dad paid for me to go to a judo dojo during high school, still during the 50s, and several summers but not all we got to go to camp. My father supported a wife, 4 children, his MIL and MIL's sister. All the kids went to parochial school for which he paid tution. They did have one car, until about 1960, then 2, and often newer cars than many here report. We had one TV, a "hi-fi" record player, and enough clock radios to have them scattered all over the house. We had a yearly vacation usually to a nearby lake, but rarely camping and never sponging off relatives. No one of his 4 kids went to trade school, though 2 of the 4 went to nearby universities and lived at home during that time. They never bought anything used, and never bought anything shoddy.

Something you did not mention above, but really improved his quality of life- he never did DIY stuff, other than interior painting. He had a handyman, a very good one, for jobs, remodeling etc around the house and yard, and a mechanic for cars. We children had to help out with childcare, yard maintenance, occasional outdoor painting jobs like fences. We also did some of the more unskilled jobs in the kitchen- salads, some sauces and of course dishwashing. After I was off at college they even got a dishwasher.

I would like to make a meta-statement. There is a lot of very unifomed bs on the internet, passed out as fact. An opinion does not equal a fact.

Ha
I guess I cant really define the typical canadian middle class lifestyle of the 50-70s I can only base my perception on the experience of my parents and their cousins. So your point is understood.

Do you think your father could support the same lifestyle today in the same profession? Would he be squeezed?

The theme seems to be that increased cost of housing makes it difficult. But from what I've seen home ownership has gone up and house sizes have also gone up. So if we adjust for that have housing costs really increased? Blargh.
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Old 05-27-2011, 05:01 PM   #36
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I guess I cant really define the typical canadian middle class lifestyle of the 50-70s I can only base my perception on the experience of my parents and their cousins. So your point is understood.

Do you think your father could support the same lifestyle today in the same profession? Would he be squeezed?

The theme seems to be that increased cost of housing makes it difficult. But from what I've seen home ownership has gone up and house sizes have also gone up. So if we adjust for that have housing costs really increased? Blargh.
Oh yes, not only would he be squeezed, it would be flat out impossible.

Professor Warren addresses this house issue better than I could, with voluminous data. The short answer is this larger houses are not the explanation. Also, many moves to these somewhat larger houses were not for the carrot of a larger house, but the stick of collapsing conditions in the city centers. To they increased cash and lifestyle costs due to commuting. To live in space large eough to raise a family close to the center of an economically vibrant city in a neighborhood that won't get your kids killed takes very meaningful money.

Ha
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Old 05-27-2011, 05:27 PM   #37
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I've been impressed with Warren's efforts on financial regulations. So I want to keep the video separate from her work on the CFPB.

But, I wasn't as impressed with this lecture.
Me neither but I am interested in a discussion of what is needed in financial regulations.


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I also like Elizabeth Warren and find her fast rise as a public figure fascinating. Since the 2007 lecture on the middle class has been discussed previously, maybe there's interest in posts on Ms. Warren and her current challenges as a lightning rod. (Apolitically, I hope.)

Clif, I think one reason Professor Warren is so fascinating is she is the antithesis of an "academic" public figure. In fact, I would say her rise is due in large part to the fact that she uses plain language effectively. She was a state high school debating champion and it shows.

Take away the financial lobby, the grandstanding processes of Congress, the debates over "qualifications" and some of her opponents' personalization of a policy discussion...I think the Elizabeth Warren / consumer protection agency debate comes down to this:

Warren's view on financial services offered to consumers: We need a new model: If you cant explain it, you cant sell it. The financial service companies who see this model as a threat to their profits are opposed.

Taking sides on the debate raises an interesting dilemma for those on the board with a conservative view on the role of government. All across the political spectrum, those of us on ER.org are generous with consumer-friendly advice: "pay down your credit card every month", "stay away from annuity contracts you can't understand", "use no-load index funds - there are a lot of funds out there that have hidden fees", etc. On the other hand, a smart bunch like this recognizes there's is a strong, legitimate case to be made that societal economic health is risked when industries are over-regulated.
I think you raise excellent points. One of the things that I've really learned since I've retired is there was a hell of lot about money management that I didn't know. Most site like ER didn't exist when I retired. The other thing I have come to understand that despite my ignorance I was much wiser about investments than the vast majority of folks. I've also come to appreciate that there is a tiny group who really understands the gory details of financial, a small group who is knowledgeable, a large group who is pretty ignorant but trainable, and a larger group who is pretty much clueless and lacks either the aptitude and/or the interest to ever become financially savvy. Needless to say very few forum members fall into the last group.

I completely agree with Dr. Warren that simplicity is the friend of consumers and generally speaking bad for profits of financial institutions.
We have a real problem in the country in that the tiny group at the top is developing complex financial products, which are often sold by the ignorant but trainable group, to the clueless.

On the other hand it is easy to forget that many of these complex financial products actually solve real problems. While there are always simple solutions to complex problems, there are generally not GOOD simple solutions to complex problems.

I'll use a personal example. In the early 80s inflation was still fairly high and Volcker had raised interest rates to try and tame inflation. In Silicon Valley house prices were raising rapidly but the high interest rates temporarily stopped the rise. At the urging of my parents I started looking for houses, I was only out college two years so didn't have much of down payment nor credit history. On the other hand I did have an Electrical Engineering degree was working on MBA part time and certainly had a promising future.

In order to qualify the mortgage broker proposed a graduate payment, negative amortization 30 year fixed loan. I don't remember the actual loan language, but I certainly understood it. Every year for the first 5 years my mortgage payments would increase by 7.5%/year, because my payments were not enough to cover even the interest payments by year 3, I would owe 105% of the original loan. By year 6 my mortgage payments would be 37.5% higher than I started and if I didn't get pay raise would be way more than 1/2 my paycheck. Despite borrowing from my parents I could only afford 10%, so the interest rate was 13.25% and with PMI the total was 13.75%, which was roughly 2% more than conforming 30 year fixed at the time.

Now for most people and most times, a loan like this would be predatory lending at its worst. My parents eye glazed over as I explained it to them. In fact it was I fine loan for me because I was getting double digit pay raises and while I was struggling for the first year by year 3 it was not hard to make the mortgage payments. After 3 years, the property had appreciated enough that I got rid of PMI, I refi with ARM and for the next 5 years my interest rate and payments declined before I paid of the mortgage.

So it seems to me the regulations should be such that allow somebody like me to take on a risky loan. At the same time they should put the burden of the financial institution to make sure that borrower is in fact qualified and really understands what they are getting into.
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Old 05-27-2011, 05:43 PM   #38
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So it seems to me the regulations should be such that allow somebody like me to take on a risky loan. At the same time they should put the burden of the financial institution to make sure that borrower is in fact qualified and really understands what they are getting into.
And probably the most straightforward way to do that is to assure the lender's own interests lie with assuring the customer can and does repay the loan. OTOH, if the lender can artfully unload that risk (to the government, or to others by less-than-transparent means) then we'll see a repeat of the past. If the lender only "wins" when loans perform for the duration of their term, that's better assurance of proper loanwriting than any new govt consumer protection bureaucracy can provide.
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Old 05-27-2011, 05:47 PM   #39
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- sent their kids to play in the park (no extra-curr. activities)
- had one radio
- had one car and carpooled
- went camping or visited relatives for a vacation
- sent the kids to trade school or local college (reduced education costs)
- bought used furniture
- bought department store clothes
- bought used appliances
- skipped everything else on the list above.

The way I see it, the Canadian middle class is really suffering from an abundance of choices and lifestyles. We just have to pick the one that fits our resources.
I also was a kid 50 years ago . My Dad was a state trooper and my Mom who was an RN stayed home and raised us . I had three siblings . We went to day camp every summer and usually took tap dancing or some other activity during the winter . One year I took baton twirling and the lighted baton almost ended my life . We all went away to private colleges after twelve years in catholic school . Our vacations were spent at the Jersey shore and my Dad always drove a fairly new Chevy or Plymouth. Our clothes were new . One year we all got record players for Christmas stacked with new records . I always felt we were middle class and I never felt at a loss for anything . In fact I had a picture perfect childhood .
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Old 05-27-2011, 05:52 PM   #40
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I'm starting to think my family was working class poor rather than middle class. Could be.
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