The M-Word

Middle class.  Isn’t that what this year’s presidential election is all about?  Not so fast, says Jim Wallis.  He is the CEO of Sojourners, an organization promoting faith in action with a Christian take on social justice.  Here’s what he has to say about 2012 election politics:

Jesus didn’t say “What you have done for the middle class, you have done for me.”

As we enter into the final stretch of the upcoming elections, we need to talk about the “P” word – Poverty.  Both political conventions talked a lot about the middle class, but what you didn’t hear much about was the poor and marginalized.  “Opportunity” was another key word at both conventions this summer.  As Christians, we must be clear that creating new opportunities must include poor children and low-income families.

We are called to care for the least of these, but how does that translate in selecting our public servants?

Jim Wallis addresses this question in his Sojourners feature article, “How to Choose a President,” and a free “Why Voting Matters” downloadable voting guide.   Click here to learn about Sojourners and here for the current magazine issue.

Entitlement” seems to be emerging as another of those presidential election key words, as discussed in the last post’s comments.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the Jewish tradition of tzedakah both suggest a human desire for self-sufficiency, not dependence.  Are there as many poor people abusing the social safety net as voters trying to justify eliminating it would like to believe?  The truth is, most citizens do feel entitled to safe roads, clean water, 911 emergency assistance, hazardous weather alerts, mail delivery and so on.  Let us not leave out education.  Even those educated exclusively in private institutions benefit from a well-educated populace.  And let’s be honest, most private educational institutions depend on government grants, tax exemptions or tuition aid—government benefits enjoyed for the most part by the rich.  Where is the line between entitlement and the marks of a just and civil society?

One dynamic emerging out of the current election politics is the humorous (and somewhat disingenuous) trend toward everyone considering themselves middle class.  What counts as middle class?  The answer is inflated by taxpayer self-interest.  Self-interest aside, however, could you agree to define the middle class as those with household income not in the bottom 25% or in the top 25% but in the middle 50%?  If so, then according to IRS 2009 tax returns, middle class families have income less than $66,000 per year.  More than that puts you in the top 25%.  More than $154,000 puts you in the top 5%.  Some notable 2012 election candidates are arguing that the middle class extends into this top 5% group.

Is it simply a matter of retaining popular tax deductions or escaping the “fair share” levied on the rich?  Or is there more to the desire to be “middle class” than that?  Do over-the-top lifestyles celebrated in the media skew our perceptions?  Is it a herd mentality that makes us comfortable in the middle instead of in the extremes?  Or does a simple lack of diversity awareness allow us to presume we’re in the majority even when we’re not?

Join the conversation.  What opportunities extended to the poor and marginalized would actually lift up and benefit the middle class?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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