Many years ago I knew someone who was in the marketing department of a major US company. He was the first person I ever heard speak about the shrinking middle class. His vantage point was from the products his company had chosen to make. The corporate decision was to focus on products on either end – either the high end products which customers would find a way to afford or the very low end products for everyone else. The products they previously had produced for those of us “in the middle” were no longer going to be made because it had been determined there was not going to be a market for them.
Years later I recall that conversation.
At the time I listened to what our friend was saying, but I didn’t really understand. Now, I think I am beginning to. His reflection, which he made with some degree of sadness, makes me wonder about companies like Sears and JC Penny. When I was growing up in a very middle class family those two stores were mainstays for our family. They were the middle class stores at which we shopped – better than K-Mart, but not as good as the high end department stores in the city. They offered quality products at an affordable price. Now, from what I understand, both of those companies are in trouble. I am not an economist or a business executive to critique either of those businesses from a management point of view, but it does make me wonder. Is it just poor management decisions or has their market shared just dried up with the choice now being Macys (or something similar) for those who can afford it or Walmart for those who can’t?
In the last several weeks there has been increased conversation about stagnant income levels for so many, increased disparity between the wealthiest in our country and in the world and most of the citizens and whether or not we should raise the minimum wage. While I am pessimistic about our ability to do so, at least on the national stage, I think those conversations are important ones for us to have because the conversation we need to have is not only about income and wages, but also, I think, about family stability and community viability, and probably a whole lot more.