The Middle-Class: Assumed Affluence & the Media

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Class and inequality are topics that are regularly covered by the media. Especially with the housing crisis in this decade, there is even more attention focused on the well-being of the middle class. However, even with all of the attention focused on the real problems, the representations and depictions of class relationships still endure the same skewed visions and myths that classify social stratification in the United States. A recent Reuters article titled Middle-class Neighborhoods Squeezed Out, Income Gap Rises reported that according to a study of over one hundred metropolitan areas, middle-class neighborhoods are suffering more than ever and it is having serious implications. Ultimately, while this article does adequately represent the declining middle-class, it does also reflect the vague and misleading way in which class is depicted in the media.

Indeed, the reality of how much the middle-class is suffering is truly shining in the media. It is harder and harder for families to maintain the lifestyles they once had. As Holly Sklar mentioned, “economic inequality has gone back to the future circa the 1920’s” (Sklar, 307). This means that the inequality is at quasi Great Depression levels. Even worse, the comfortable middle-class cannot maintain their lifestyles. For instance, “the share of families in poor residential areas increased to 17 percent from 8 percent” (Mutikani, 2011). These families are being forced to move and downgrade their lives because they can’t afford it. Clearly, as the income gap widens, “more and more two-paycheck households are struggling to afford a home, college, healthcare and retirement, once normal for middle-class households with one paycheck” (Sklar, 309). Surely, the middle-class was once a comfortable situation in which affluence was associated with it. However, these are associations that are not an accurate portrayal.

The ways in which the concepts of middle, upper and lower class are used represent a vague interpretation of common myths regarding American culture. For instance, Gregory Mantsios argued that a common myth of society was that “we are, essentially, a middle-class nation…[where] most Americans have achieved relative affluence in what is widely recognized as a consumer society” (Mantsios, 178). Within this context, it would appear as though the middle-class is affluent and more closely associated with the upper class. However, the neighborhoods that accommodate these affluent individuals are declining and few and few in between: “a significant portion of society’s resources are concentrated in a smaller and smaller portion of neighborhoods” (Mutikani, 2011). It is clearly a major misconception to try and associate the middle class with the upper class because they do not represent a symbol of affluence to begin with. This misconception of the middle-class being a symbol of achievement and affluence is very far from the truth.

The reality of America is that data, facts and figures are used to distort the class distinctions. As the United States is highly focused on income and wages, it is always a relevant factor to say that “class distinctions operate in virtually every aspect of our society” (Mantsios, 610). That being said, while the Reuters report focused on victimizing the middle-class for their losses in lifestyle practices among affluent people, this generalization is not accurate. In fact, there is a problem of the media in general portraying this “universal middle class” (Mantsios, 615).  But, this is not true as there are many more people suffering in other classes and tiers of society. As the poor are mentioned briefly and only within context of the middle class, they are also portrayed as being a faceless and ‘other’ group in society, despite the fact that they are probably suffering the most (Mantsios, 612).

Clearly, it is evident that the middle class is suffering. Many are being forced to move out of their homes and into neighborhoods where the poor also reside. This trend represents rates that are historically relevant to a major national depression. However, the context of the middle-class as a term is assumed to be similar to the upper-class: a symbol of affluence. However, as the middle-class is portrayed as victimized by the economy, the fact is that only the upper-class is really making strides in terms of income and growth. The fact remains that the universal middle class does not exist and the media neglects these distinctions while totally overshadowing the lower class.

Works Cited

Mantsios, Gregory. "Class in America - 2009." Race, Class and Gender in the United States: an Integrated Study. 8th Edition ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2010. 177-192. Print.

Mantsios, Gregory. "Media Magic: Making Class Invisible." Race, Class and Gender in the United States: an Integrated Study. 8th Edition ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2010. 610-618. Print.

Mutikani, Lucia. "Middle-class neighborhoods squeezed out, income gap rises." Reuters [New York] 16 Nov. 2011: n. pag. Middle-class neighborhoods squeezed out, income gap rises. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Sklar, Holly. "Imagine a Country - 2009." Race, Class and Gender in the United States: an Integrated Study. 8th Edition ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2010. 307-316. Print.