middle class families

Middle-Class Families




face (2) dream (3) American Dream
modest generation opportunity
GI Bill struggle grow/grew/grown (2)
rent kind (2) subdivision
navy race (2) as much as
GI stress (2) grow up (2)
bill (2) have to get ahead, move ahead
eat out stay (2) toothpaste
reach income white picket fence
get by catch up feel/felt/felt (2)
picket stuck (2) catch/caught/caught (2)
own care (2) forget/forgot/forgotten
worry times (2) get/got/got
wealth on record emergency
parade majority come/came/come
earn divide (2) drive/drove/driven (2)
splurge part-time brave/braver/bravest
coupon rotation achievable
give up schedule give/gave/given
tough get ready get/got/got-gotten
pay off incredible sleep/slept/slept
diary night shift clean-shaven
shave head out come through
spare inequality make/made/made
seal (3) minority one after the other
gravel structure paramedic
parade race off go/went/gone
load train (2) know/knew/known
guy furniture Rubik’s Cube
hurt post (3) tell/told/told
jack up mortgage buy/bought/bought
loan pay down pay/paid/paid
used try/tried to head home
razor detergent eat/ate/eaten
pair support remember
go out last time think/thought/thought (2)
budget premium straight (3)
storm back yard leave/left/left (2)
flood save (3) cost/cost/cost
scary longingly go away (2)
afford security savings account
bonus random spend/spent/spent
spunky make it write/wrote/written
bar (3) laundry anniversary
take up union (2) air conditioners
aide increase exhaustion
lie (2) shift (2) read/read/read
extra climb (2) guess what
blame potential supposed to
fail (2) full-time hear/heard/heard
doubt break (2) entry-level
guess equality coordinator






A year and a half ago, we posted some questions starting with this one: “What is the American Dream?”

So many of you remembered it as a parent with a job, a modest house. Maybe a family vacation. And the kind of education that would give the children even more opportunity in life.

I remember that dream too. My parents grew up on farms in southern Kentucky. This was the house where we lived until I was four; they rented it when my mom was a schoolteacher; my dad in the Navy.

So thanks to the GI Bill they got a house in a subdivision, a family street with picnics and 4th of July parades.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

But so many of you also wrote us about the stress and the struggle of trying to reach that dream today.

Woman, One: “I’m actually having to work three jobs and my husband works three jobs as well. And we’re still not able to get ahead.”

Man, Two: “Back when I was a kid, my father worked, my mother stayed home. My father’s income was enough for us to get by.”

Woman, Three: When I was growing up, it was achievable: a white picket fence, being able to own your own home.”

Woman, Four: “I feel like we can never catch up.”

Man, Five: “It’s like you’re stuck.”

Man, Six: “You got to get the millionaires and the billionaires in Washington to start worrying about the working-class people, because . . . ”
Journalist: “You think they don’t know, don’t care?”
Man, Six: “I think they forgot.”

Two facts: over the past thirty years, the US economy has been growing.

But those at the top are getting more and more of the money: the top 20 percent have 14 times the wealth of the rest, the 80 percent — the largest inequality on record.

And for the first time in half-a-century, the majority of the young people in the middle class are not earning as much as their parents did.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Which is why long ago, we started driving around the country. This is a stop at Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania.

This fire station, Pennsylvania’s bravest. I learned that 40 out of 68 full-time firefighters here have to work at least a second job . . . though they say a generation ago, a firefighting income could support your family.

But firefighter Chris Smith simply will not give up on that dream for his children.

Chris Smith has jobs. He works on rotation; his schedule a Rubik’s Cube.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “Three nights of February, I’ll get to sleep in my own bed; every other night I’m working somewhere overnight.”

We’re there as he gets ready to go to work at his first job: firefighter on the night shift.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “I have to be clean-shaven for the fire department, so our mask will form a good seal on our face. Spare uniforms for every job that I’m going to over the next two days.”

Job number one: at the firehouse — 15 straight hours. Chris makes us a video diary of 7 emergency calls come in to the firehouse one after the other.
Chris Smith, Firefighter: “We are heading out on a call possible structure fire reported smoke.”

Job number two is as a trained paramedic. Some days Chris goes directly there to work eight hours.

Job number three: Five hours as a paramedic in a different town. He races off to help a truck worker who was unloading gravel.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “I know you’re a tough guy, but tell me if something was hurting right.”
Truck Worker: “I will. Thank you.”
Chris Smith, Firefighter: No problem, buddy.”

As he heads home to sleep, behind the closed doors of his house, Chris faces a different kind of stress — and a lot of love.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “Hello!”
Child: “Daddy!”
Chris Smith, Firefighter: “Hi buddy! How was your day? Let’s go make macaroni.”

His wife Laura, Baby Ella and Toddler, Little Christopher.

Little Christopher, Toddler: “So how many calls you’ve had?
Chris Smith, Firefighter: “How many calls? Two calls.”
Little Christopher, Toddler: “That’s you?”
Chris Smith, Firefighter: “Yeah.”
Little Christopher, Toddler: “You always save people who are hurt?”
Chris Smith, Firefighter: “People who are hurt.”

They bought a house in a neighborhood where the public schools are good. 30-year mortgage. They’re also paying down big student loans ($75,000).

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “I’m gonna go get ready for work. I love you.”

To save money they, tell us they bought used furniture online. They only eat out once a year — on their anniversary. They buy toothpaste and razors with coupons.

And Chris shows us the one pair of shoes he uses for going out, like to church; they are ten years old.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “I can’t tell you the last time my wife and I bought it anything for ourselves.”

And then just when the Smiths thought they might be able to come in on budget, two surprises: his healthcare premiums were jacked up nearly 30 percent in the past two years.

And a storm flooded their back yard, costing thousands.

Journalist: “At the end of each month, how much they have left?”

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “Really nothing.”

Mrs. Smith, Chris’ Wife: “He’s such a good guy and he works so hard. And the job that he does do is so incredibly hard, and so incredibly scary.”

Chris looks longingly the lives of the 20% of Americans who take up so much more of America’s wealth.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “I want more time with my children, with my family. You’re never gonna get that back.”

The people who can afford vacations and savings accounts, security for the future.

Chris Smith, Firefighter: “They spend more in one day than we probably spend in a month. Their bonuses are more than we make in years. It’s a totally different world that they live in.”

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

And so many of you wrote us that it doesn’t seem most Americans know about the reality of a middle-class life.

We went out on the street to ask some random questions. “What percentage of Americans today are in the middle class?”

Random People on the Street: “85% . . . 64% . . . 75% . . . 80% . . .”

The truth just 50%.

“And what is the income for a family of five just making it through the middle-class door?”

Random People on the Street: “$200 K . . . $100,000 . . .
This is my answer: “$68,000” . . . 300,000 . . .

That income actually starts at $54,000.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

So we head to Maryland where we meet an incredibly spunky woman named Traci Coleman.

She’s shaving big bars of soap to make her own laundry detergent because it saves her $10 a month.

Traci’s husband once had a union job in manufacturing but it went away. So he spends long days installing air conditioners. She works as an aide at the local elementary school.

She worries that people blame working families for their situation.

Traci Coleman, Nominal Middle-Class: “Something’s wrong with you. You’re doing something wrong. We’re working. It’s not like we’re not working . . . it’s just not enough money to support you.”

Her big splurge, she says: McDonald’s maybe once a month.

Traci Coleman, Nominal Middle-Class: “I’m not gonna lie. I’ve said to myself I should not have spent that $18 and MacDonald’s. I could have put it in the gas tank.

But I want my kids to be able to enjoy life.”

She has two children: a daughter named Abby and a son, Colton, who’s just 7 years old but already reads at a sixth-grade level.

He and his best friend Caleb have questions about her budget.

Caleb, Best Friend: “How much money do you get?”

Traci Coleman, Nominal Middle-Class: “What I’m gonna bring home is gonna be four hundred and seventy dollars ($470).

Colton, Son: “What!?! What?!!”
Traci Coleman, Nominal Middle-Class: “Okay, but listen to this: our house costs $800 a month (mortgage), so I’ve got to work two weeks at least just to pay off the mortgage. Gas and electrics another $200 a month, so that’s another half a week.

I have to pay for a car that’s $200, so now I have to buy food, soap, shampoo, toothpaste . . . so we’re left with maybe $50 extra.

Well guess what? What if we want to go to McDonald’s once?”

Colton, Son: “That’s like zero dollars.

Traci Coleman, Nominal Middle-Class: “That’s like zero dollars that we can save. So how are we supposed to save?”

Colton, Son: “By . . . I know.”

Traci hears all those pundits on TV saying that people just need to get a college degree.

TV Pundits: “A college education increases your earning potential by 20%. Your college degree is your ticket in the door to get these jobs.”

So every day, Traci tries to power up her failing computer, to do homework for an online college course fighting against the exhaustion and the stress in her life.

And if you doubt what it means for someone like Tracy to get a little break a different job opens up at the elementary school. It’s still entry level a parent-teacher coordinator but with extra pay.

Tracy Coleman: “I got this job. I got this job!”

One moment to save her on her family’s difficult climb into the American dream.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *



Homeless. The presenter grew up in poverty. She came from a poor family. Is this right or wrong? Did she have a happy childhood? How does she describe her childhood?

Prisoner, Convict.
Did people on the street talk about how successful they were in their careers and businesses?

Hobo, Tramp, Bum. The United States has become richer and more developed. The US economy has boomed and everyone has benefited. Is this entirely true, mostly true, in the middle, yes and no, it depends, largely false to entirely false?

Poor. Has the situation changed in the US?

Lower-class. Is firefighting a well-paid job that can support a family and provide a middle-class life? Does Chris Smith have an easy or very difficult life? What motivates or drives him?

Unemployed. What do most people think about the middle-class? What do average people think about being in the middle-class?

Working-poor. Are all of Traci Coleman’s friends sympathetic and supportive of her and her situation?

Working-class, Lower middle-class. What do experts advise people? Has Traci followed their advice?

Middle-class. Why might Chris Smith, Traci Coleman and others be struggling? What advice would you give them?

Upper middle-class.
What can you say about socio-economic classes or social classes in your city and country? Has it always been this way? How have things changed?

Upper-Class. Is there a large gap between rich and poor or rich and middle-class? Is it easy, difficult, in the middle or in-between to move up (advance in) the social-economic ladder, or it depends?

Rich, Wealthy. Do people think this is a problem, unjust or unfair? Is there a lot of debate, controversy, criticism and complaint about the current situation?

Ultra-Wealthy, Super Rich. What might happen in the future?

Pensioner, Retiree.
What could or should people and governments do?

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