There is no single definition of the ‘middle class’. In its simplest form, the middle class is the class between the rich and poor. It was the prospering working class that baby boomers grew up in and enjoyed for most of our adulthood. The middle class was the growth engine for most post-war economies where a steady and stable rise of income and quality of life was experienced for the past six decades.
However this middle class is now facing a squeeze as income struggles to keep up with inflation. Retiring boomers who do not have pensions or invested in the past will face an exceptionally challenging future with costs rising beyond their means. Even those with pensions and investments are now wondering if these will be sufficient to support their senior years. In some countries, the middle class is sinking into the lower income rungs as downgrading became the only means to support a livelihood or maintain a decent living when jobs become lesser and harder to keep.
The emphasis on the importance of a middle class in every society is not new. Some 2,300 years ago, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle quoted –
“Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing…a tyranny may grow out of either extreme. Where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissensions.”
Yet today the Cradle of Civilization is on the brink of bankruptcy and had been for the past six years amid growing social dissatisfaction and the growth of the new poor emerging from the country’s middle class. I believe Singapore will never get to that stage. But never say never.
A diminishing middle class is a reflection of a growing inequality of wealth, education, jobs, healthcare choices and home ownership. If the middle class is not properly looked after and the evolving issues of the new middle class are being ignored in policy making, then the risk of an eroding middle class will increase and in years to come, similar economic and social problems will surface. To ensure the existence of a healthy middle class, the basic needs of the people must be made available within reachable means and the chances of upgrading are real and achievable.
What should not happen is for a country to allow the rich to continue getting richer, and the poor poorer. Then what will be left of a society is two slices of bread, which doesn’t sound very palatable at all.