The Shrinking Middle Class: The Current State of Affairs

My Comments: I’ve always enjoyed the traditional greeting associated with today: Happy New Year! And so I offer you my heartfelt wishes for a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

But the reality is that for many millions of Americans, 2019 will not be a happy year. And so I offer an apology for spoiling the fun with this post.

Our social framework as a nation is coming unglued. We must either come to terms with what’s happening and find solutions for this problem or face some dire consequences. That trump was elected is a testament to an insidious economic cancer that threatens to upend the fabric of our society. One way or another it will change and I, for one, want it to evolve to the benefit of all of us, and not just a few.

The effort has to start with an attempt to understand what got us to this point. Only then can be make informed decisions about how to fix it. Today, tomorrow and Friday are three offerings about this from Fortune magazine.

by Fortune Staff \ December 20, 2018

Part I – Most Americans consider themselves part of the “middle class,” but no one can agree on what term that means. The problem? If sizing up the middle class is difficult enough, it’s even harder to say that circumstances within this group have changed. But they certainly have. As you’ll discover in this Fortune special report, life has gotten more difficult for the millions of people within the middle class. We dispatched more than 50 people to discover why the American dream has been fading for far too many.

In this section, we examine the current state of affairs by speaking with the people affected most by it. What we learned: Chasing the American dream was once exhilarating; now it’s exhausting.

Trailer Park Living in Techtopia

When Umbelina Martinez’s family first came to the United States decades ago, from ­Michoacan, Mexico, they settled in a three-bedroom house in Redwood City, Calif. It wasn’t all theirs; 25 people lived on the property, sharing a single bathroom. Martinez’s family of eight squeezed into one bedroom. “My mom and dad had to step over us kids to get to the door,” she recalls.

Today, the 46-year-old single mother of three has much more spacious accommodations: a 200-square-foot mobile home in a trailer park in Palo Alto, the heart of the technology industry and one of the most expensive cities in the country. She has lived there 13 years.

“Who wouldn’t wish to live in Palo Alto?” she asks, seated in her kitchen, which doubles as a living room, dining room, and storage space. Its thin walls are painted pale green, and there is a black refrigerator set against one wall, topped with a TV monitor. (The small quarters call for some creative design.) Kiwis and oranges rest on a tiny table pushed so close to the door that it almost touches.

Most of Martinez’s neighbors live in two- or three-room trailers with their families. Many keep pets. Their homes come in an array of colors, and some feature tiny gardens blooming with flowers and hot peppers.

If Palo Alto, with its many Silicon Valley billionaires, seems like an unlikely location for trailer living, that’s because it is. The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, tucked behind a Valero gas station on one of the city’s busiest streets, is home to just over 100 trailers and about 400 residents, including Martinez and her kids; her mother, sister, and brother; and his family. (Her mother lives with her; her sister and brother have separate mobile homes.) The residents of the park are mostly working-class immigrants who hold jobs in nearby restaurants, hair salons, and construction sites. They pay around $1,400 a month for rent and utilities in an area where the median home price is $3.2 million.

“For my family and me, it would be impossible to live anywhere else in Palo Alto,” says Martinez, who works as a banquet server at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel.

Buena Vista started out as a road-stop general store and motel in the 1920s. Over the years, it grew into one of the last sources of low-income housing in Palo Alto. In 2012 its then owners informed the residents of the mobile home park that they wanted to sell the property to an apartment complex developer. The plan included some restitution for residents, who would be evicted.

“I didn’t want the money,” says Don Roberto Munoz, one of Martinez’s neighbors. “I wanted my daughters to stay in the schools here.”

Martinez and others echoed the sentiment. So they banded together, aided by supporters from Palo Alto. In 2017 the Santa Clara County Housing Authority purchased the property for $40 million, allowing tenants to stay put.

Martinez’s sister Maria now serves as the president of Buena Vista’s residents association. “It is important to show that there isn’t just one way of thinking,” Maria says. Just a few miles west of her one-room trailer, the founder of Sun Microsystems is selling his four-story mansion. The price? $96.8 million. —By Michal Lev-Ram; Photographs by Winni Wintermeyer for Fortune

A Fight To Preserve His Public Pension

I do fine—for now. I’m a high school English teacher. I have a condo, a girlfriend, and $70,000 a year. We glamp. But sitting in comfort isn’t comfortable if you’re doing it only because standing up marks you as an enemy. In 2018, I stood up.

The governor of Kentucky rushed a bad pension reform bill through the legislature in a day. In April, teachers from all 120 counties called in sick to protest in Frankfort. Every public school district was closed. The governor’s response was to say that because of us not doing our jobs that day, kids were getting molested and using drugs for the first time. He called us thugs. He said we weren’t sophisticated enough to understand our own pension plan. They all think of us as babysitters, but I don’t know any babysitters who are required by law to do professional development every year or who need multiple master’s degrees. I have to do my job while I defend my profession. It’s exhausting.

Used to be we could retire in 25 years. Now it’s 27. They move the goalposts. I don’t mind failing as long as I’m failing forward, but this is sabotage. We used to be a country of opportunity. Now we’re a country of hope. Hope is the tax they’re always raising.

People in the margins are being pushed off the page. If you’re not vigilant, you get taken advantage of. We have to be alchemists, turning nothing into something, forcing a system built to fight us into something that somehow works. It’s not democracy; it’s oligarchy.

I see a lot of politicians in this country thinking the point of power is to see how they can use laws to make money. Citizens ­exist only as donors or lobbyists. The powers that be define America by control, not freedom. I question often that I’m even a person to them.

It’s not a poverty you feel in your bank. You feel it in your mirror. There’s wealth that’s not monetary. It’s in community, culture, knowledge, experience, and engagement. As long as we measure a person or our nation by the stock market, we will always be poorer than we realize. —As told to Richard Morgan

Struggling at the Superstore

My name is Dio Gourley. I’m a 19-year-old trans man of the he/him variety who lives and works in coastal Mississippi as a door greeter at Walmart.

I work between 23 and 35 hours a week at $11 an hour. I can’t have a second job because of how unpredictable my schedule is. If I request certain days off, I’d lose hours. Walmart is the best-paying job in town in the poorest state. If we went on strike, they wouldn’t bat an eye at firing us. We can’t organize without risking getting fired.

I get to work with a ride from my great-aunt. If I have time to meal prep, I can eat for two weeks on $60 or less. If I have money and don’t bring something from home, I eat at Waffle House right across from us. I try to tip more than 15%, but that’s not much when you only have triple hash browns and a coffee. Some of them need it more than I do. We’re all in this together.

My mom stays up until 11 p.m. to bring me home, even though she gets up for work at 5:30 a.m. When I was a kid, before Hurricane Katrina, my dad worked offshore, and my mom painted houses. We were living with my grandmother and great-aunt for four years. After that, we lived in a trailer. Dad ended up dying of alcohol withdrawal—he didn’t realize he had pneumonia. Government checks kept us afloat while Mom was between jobs. And by afloat, I mean picking and choosing which bill gets paid that month.

I now live with my mom again, after a brief stint with a boyfriend and a roommate. Honestly, we weren’t making it. Money is part of why I returned home. Both of my siblings have moved back at various points. It saved them money on babysitting, but to be completely honest, I didn’t eat to make sure my nephews could. Mom was the same way. A meal of grits and some cheap junk food every day and lots of sweet tea to keep the blood sugar up high enough to get things done.

We put our bills in a bag and draw one or two at random when the money’s tight. My plan isn’t to move out; it’s to build a cabin on the lot next to us for Mom to live in, so we can take care of each other for as long as she’s still here. Less rent and mortgage that way.

If there is an “American dream,” it’s really a nightmare. Two jobs to keep up, three to get ahead. Everyone around me keeps getting poorer. I’ve got friends who haven’t been able to catch up on bills enough to save $400 to go visit family, while the people working us to death are buying third and fourth yachts. How is that a dream? —As told to Carson Kessler

Note: These are the first three people featured in this Part 1. There are 12 more people featured here that deserve an understanding of their current lives. Continue reading HERE: