Sunday, January 24, 2021

We always just assumed we were middle class

The Pew Research Center offers this online calculator that will tell you whether you're considered to be in the lower, middle, or upper income tier based on the part of the U.S. in which you live, your annual household income before taxes, and the number of people in your household. (If you click that link, it should open up in a separate window so you don't have to navigate away from this post.)

My personal results were just about where I figured they would be, but it made me think back to when I was growing up on Harding Drive in good old suburban Wickliffe, Ohio. We always thought of ourselves as middle class, as did everyone else on our street, as far as I knew.

I say "as far as I knew" because over time, I've come to learn there are people who secretly have lots of money but who, for whatever reason, choose to live very frugal lifestyles and only appear to be middle class.

The gauge I used as a kid for figuring out whether people were "rich" was not so much the size of their house, but how close the house was to their neighbors on either side.

On my street, there was never more than about 50 feet from one house to another, so in my mind, we were all pretty solidly middle class.

There were other parts of Wickliffe, up in "Wickliffe Heights" where I live now, for example, where people had big yards and lots of space between houses. I figured those must be the rich people.

I know better now that I actually live up here, but veterans of this area of town always laugh when I tell them what my perception of it was back in the 70s and 80s.

Of course, this is all a matter of perspective. Salaries in Northeast Ohio tend to lag behind many parts of the country, largely because the cost of living is so reasonable around here. What we paid for our house in Wickliffe might get us a two-room apartment in San Francisco. Might.

But when you start thinking globally, we middle-class folks in the U.S. live like kings and queens. The Washington Post a few years ago published a calculator that allowed you to compare your income with people in specific countries around the world.

Suffice it to say that most of us are Bill Gates in comparison with the citizens of certain nations.

So we should be grateful, middle class or otherwise. Growing up, I didn't know any better anyway, so I've always been pretty satisfied with where my family and I fall out, socioeconomically speaking.

Long live the bourgeoisie.

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