Daily Archives: 02/22/2010

The Dying Middle Class

Hello, I’m what’s left of the American middle class. And I’m dying.

I’m in my 30s and I have a wife and one child. I own a house, and although a man is only a man once he buys land and a domicile, it is this very house that is crushing my will to live. But more on that later. Here in the middle class, both of us work full-time. And we work hard. We kind of had to after one of us lost that job when the economy imploded. Sure we make less now, but one of us was also forced to take a job an hour away from home, so we’re spending a fortune on gas that costs nearly $3 a gallon and less time with our families. And because we can’t spend as much time with our kids as we’d like, we need to pay for daycare. That means one of our jobs is paying almost exclusively for someone else to watch our kid, yet we slave away.

But then home values tanked and we were stuck with that exotic mortgage. I know exotic sounds sexy most of the time, but trust me, in this instance there’s nothing appealing about it. It was only supposed to be temporary, you know, until we could refinance or sell the place and get something bigger. But then the market crashed and home values dropped faster than Tiger Woods’ pants. All of a sudden we’re upside down $75,000 and saddled with an adjustable rate mortgage that’s about to shoot up higher than Tiger’s erection when he passes a strip joint. We can’t refinance because we don’t have any equity in the house. We can’t sell the place because we’d still owe a fortune. And we can’t rent it because the rental income wouldn’t even cover all of our expenses.

Not to mention most of us haven’t received raises in a couple of years now, and health insurance costs have ballooned up to nearly unthinkable levels as employers contribute less and less to the cause.

And speaking of expenses, it’s getting out of control. The condo fees are getting a little too close to $300 a month for comfort. And on top of that, the condo association has implemented a 5-year “special assessment” at the rate of $1,100 a year to put new siding on the houses. Not to mention another $140 special assessment for landscaping, which is already supposed to be included in the regular condo fees. Yet my house has no new siding, they don’t do anything besides mow the lawn and the snow barely gets plowed in the winter. Meanwhile NStar is charging me a $500 per month electric bill because energy costs are off the charts.

Although we haven’t used credit cards in years, it became clear  a few months ago we had to lean on them in our time of need. But lo and behold, new credit card regulations are going into effect and the credit card companies don’t like it one bit. So, they began either drastically reducing credit limits on existing cards, or in some cases, canceling them altogether. That means our emergency safety net was suddenly removed, just as we got to the most treacherous part of the tightrope. And the biggest kick to the junk is when you’re hoping for a mini bailout in the form of a tax return, only to discover you owe the government $3,000 because you had to take out withdrawals from IRAs and 401ks just to get by.

Recently, after some simple math, it became clear that making timely mortgage payments, utility payments, condo fee payments, etc was not going to be possible. But because we are proud people who have never fallen behind on any payments in the past, we wanted to be proactive. So, being the responsible middle class folks we are, we began calling around.

We tried to refinance our mortgage and were rebuffed. We tried to negotiate with the condo association and were shat upon. But perhaps the most frustrating part was appealing to the mortgage company. We explained our situation to them and told them for at least a few months, we weren’t going to be able to pay on time. And so we asked for assistance, noting that we were doing so ahead of time to stay in front of things.

Wanna know what they said? They told us there was nothing they could do for us until we were at least two months behind in payments.

Incredulous at their response, we asked them if we were correct in surmising that they could do nothing to help us now, but if we were derelict in our responsibility to pay them for the next two months, then and only then could they step in and help us.

Does anyone else see how fucking backward this is?!?! No one can help the middle class until the middle class is so broke they become the poor. It actually benefits me NOT to pay the mortgage, so that I can receive help to then — you guessed it — pay the mortgage. Maybe I’m a goddamn lunatic here, but wouldn’t it be more cost effective to assist people BEFORE they get to the point where they’re considering walking away from a home with no equity of which they’re in arrears?

And make no mistake, people are walking away from their homes. And who can blame them? A lot of the middle class didn’t put money down on their homes, they’re upside down and with the market correction may never see any kind of profit. Where there used to be a strong connection to our homes, many see them as an anchor around their necks. There’s no “pride of ownership” related to a home that is slowly killing you. So people are taking the credit hit, weathering the foreclosure and starting over.

Meanwhile those of us working several jobs apiece and breaking our backs to pay everything on time (or slightly behind) are met with no assistance, liens on our homes and threatening letters from lenders and bill collectors. And whether it’s a car repair, home repair or medical problem, we’re all one major unexpected bill away from serious motherfucking trouble.

This is why the middle class is disappearing. The middle class makes too much money to qualify for much of the available aid out there, but not enough to make all the ends meet. It’s like being stuck in some hellish limbo where things admittedly could be worse, but at the same time there’s no real chance of them getting any better. It’s a never-ending struggle and swimming upstream is so fucking maddening sometimes, I feel like just sinking to the bottom so someone will come rescue me.

But I can’t. I can’t imagine getting behind on the mortgage. I would feel too much guilt, because I’ve been taught personal responsibility. And that’s what the bigwigs bank on, the pride of the remaining class that will keep them paying into a money pit that will never benefit them.

I thought our President might provide some relief, and for the first time in a long time I was hopeful. Turns out I was naive. There’s no help on the way. No white (or in this case, black) knight coming to the rescue. We either need to give up and be dirt poor, or hit the lottery (or land a book deal) and move up to the wealthy stratosphere.

Because those of us in the middle are nearly extinct, and we’re running out of reasons to keep trying.

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