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It's Official: Gov Stats Shows the Middle Class is Dead

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Go to a larger city, say Philadelphia where the CLI is 126 (New York City's CLI is 218) and you'll need at least $2,136 for the same mediocre two bedroom unit, utilities, furnishing, etc. that can be had in Indianapolis for $1,375.

The double-wide will run you a small down payment of $10,000 to purchase $73,000 worth of "manufactured housing" plus an average land rent of $300 per month for a total $1,400 per month budget package.

Fourteen hundred dollars is not going to cut it in any average real estate market (CLI 100) for the average house, which now goes for $212,300, even in the currently devastated housing market.

Average single family house living is going for about $1,650 a month, including average property taxes and insurance.  Tack on even more for repairs and maintenance.  And, that's after you plunk down $50,000 to cover both closing costs and a 20% down payment. 

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Hint: look around any "middle class" neighborhood and spot the empty houses, for sale and for rent signs, and how many of these splendid digs need paint, a new roof and/or other major and minor repairs. 

Food:  Hand to mouth.

If being middle class means you can afford more than a cut-rate meal once in a while the average American family certainly isn't in the middle anymore.  What they can afford is the USDA Low-cost Food Plan, not the government's Moderate-cost food plan and certainly not the Liberal plan.

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With $531 a month to spend on food for our 2.5 humans, and assigning one as a child between 6 and 11 years old, $508 could go for home meals and brown-bagged lunches for the 1.3 workers under the Low-cost Food Plan.  That leaves next to nothing for food on the road.

Or, the more likely scenario, they could go with the super cheap USDA Thrifty food plan, which according to prices registered in October 2011, would leave them an extravagant $141 a month for food purchases on the road, $14 dollars a week per person. 

As we've been told by recent research, cheap calories are also the least nutritious.  Though I'm sure the USDA has created a sumptuous and healthy Thrifty family diet, the average American family, stressed and over-worked, is probably going to eat cheap, corn produced junk and fast food as evidenced by the fact that their food spending outside the home, according to the BLS, was $212 per month.

A healthy diet of fresh food is expensive.  Are you really middle class if you can't afford to feed yourself and your family properly?

Savings :  Not happening.

Though the national saving rate now stands at 4% of income, there is no budget item in the BLS data for savings, just what people are spending.  But by doing an accounting analysis it is obvious the average American family currently has a saving rate of zero.  See: below Debt.

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Debt:   Exit though the company store.

After considering all the spending figures from the BLS we added the Federal Reserve's data on non-mortgage debt.  In 2011, the average American family's personal debt, credit cards and installment loans, was $21,402.  We deducted for a car loan that was included in the BLS transportation budget line.  That left our family with a $4,272 yearly principle and interest payment, $356 per month.

That payment, in turn, saddled them with an addition $3,801 annual deficit which would, in turn, increase their total personal debt load from $18,152 this year to $18,603 for next year.

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Chaz Valenza is writer and small business owner in New Jersey. He earned his MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. His current feature film project is "Single Point Failure" an insider's account of how the Reagan Administration (more...)

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