Times in Trail: The middle class is fine, save the people who need saving

"The fact remains there are segments of our society, which are struggling and need attention from the decision makers."

Every politician is looking out for us, every business wants to please us and every budget is designed to save us.

By “us” I mean the middle class.

Nowadays every time a politician opens his or her mouth, it is to tell the “middle class” that they are being protected, ravaged, taxed or saved.

But exactly who is the middle class?

I spent a few days going over different definitions, taking a quick survey and reviewed expert opinions on what defines the middle class.

Some define it by income, which by that definition leaves me on the outer edge. Some define it by disposable income, which by that definition leaves me even further out. Some define it by tangibles like mortgages, steady jobs, vacations, cars and education. I have a bit of all of that albeit more mortgage than vacation.

Basically I came to the realization that using the term “middle class,” is perfect for politicians but hardly anyone else. The definition is so open to interpretation that politicians can spin it any way they want.

On one hand we have the Conservatives claiming the middle class is succeeding because our personal wealth grew over 44 per cent since 2005. I’m no economist but I believe a lot of that wealth simply grew from the housing market and the rising prices. Unfortunately they fail to mention the rising costs of homes are making them unaffordable to many young families, the growing personal debt and poor job market.

On the other hand we have the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau saying the middle class is under attack and many Canadians are “very, very, worried.”

I wouldn’t go as far as saying “I’m worried.” I prefer to say, “I’m lucky.”

And perhaps that’s one of the best things about living in Trail.

We don’t have to deal with the astronomical housing prices that are prevalent in other bigger B.C. centres.

We are lucky enough to have a good stream of large steady employers right on our doorstep.

We don’t need to go far to vacation, with rivers and mountains within view out our front window.

I don’t picture the middle class as “struggling” when you see $50,000 trucks driving around with two snowmobiles on the back, families with cell phone plans for their elementary school kids and giant flat screen TVs in most homes. Those purchasing decisions are in their hands and if they have the money to do it, so be it.

But the fact remains there are segments of our society, which are struggling and need attention from the decision makers.

A push this week by union leaders to increase the minimum wage in B.C. is the first correct step in helping the segment of the population that needs the most help – the ones just one step ahead of poverty.

I have no doubt the government, despite its “Family First” slogan, with help from business leaders, will shoot down the notion of upping the minimum wage. They’ll use the argument that it will force layoffs, that prices will rise and businesses will close.

I always found those arguments so asinine. The entire premise of our economy is generated by regular folks, like you and I, having enough disposable income to shop, eat out, travel and afford the multiple offerings served up by local businesses.

It’s how the circle of the economy works. We work, earn money, spend some of it, perhaps save some, we help businesses grow with our purchasing power, in turn they expand, hire more people who earn money, spend it and the cycle continues.

And I’m not even touching on the social and health benefits of allowing people to earn a living they can actually live on.

But somewhere along the line, the people’s role in the economic equation has been taken out.

Perhaps it began with politicians buying into the trickle-down economics theory. The idea was that if you gave businesses and corporations enough tax breaks, the savings would eventually be passed down the line to the public.

However, politicians should have known from their own experience the power of greed. Why pass on savings when companies can boost earnings and CEOs can reap performance bonuses and help bolster the 1 per cent rather than help the 99 per cent.

Ironically to this day, the people we put in charge still can’t figure it out.

So instead of changing their tired ways of thinking, the politicians trot out the same tired phrases of “saving the middle class.”

The middle class doesn’t need saving in my point of view. Many of us in this region know how lucky we are to have steady work and regular pay.

What the middle class needs is more people to join them and climb away from near-poverty levels.

Unfortunately that will only come at the expense of the 1 per cent, which has the loudest voice in how political thinking unfolds in this era.

It’s not the middle class that needs saving. It’s our government’s conscience.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times