Features by Middle Class Photo Project
I took two days off of work to have a long weekend trip with my family to Lancaster, PA. We visited Dutchwonderland Amusement Park; It's becoming an annual event for us. This was my daughter's first roller coaster ride. This picture captured for me life in the middle class. We didn't go anywhere extravagant but we are comfortable enough to do something like this and we had a phenomenal time.
This family photo was chosen because it represents a harmonious departure from each member's daily, weekly and weekend routine. With busy schedules consisting of work, commuting, school, extra-curricular activities and so forth, middle class families must work extremely hard to be together. The photo was taken at the municipal park in Winchester, VA. It had been many years since we've taken a family photo and we started talking about getting it done during the Christmas holidays. My wife "made it happen" on a fall Saturday afternoon, eleven months later.
This photo was taken on the one-year anniversary of our business. My husband and I opened a sandwich shop on the Southern Coast of Maine using nothing more than the tax credit we received from buying a home in 2010. One year later, we've established a second year-round shop- all without taking out a single loan. The photo is of our celebration- a $7 bottle of sparking wine out on our deck, during one day off a week. To be middle class means to follow your dreams, to work harder than you ever imagined and to sacrifice much. Because despite the state of the economy, we can still find success.
I was listening to this story on my drive home from my monthly grocery shopping trip. I was feeling very lucky that I have found a way to make our food budget work. Being middle class means we can take advantage of economies of scale. My husband and I were spending far too much on our grocery bill at our local grocery store. Nearly $800 a month just for two people, two dogs, and two cats! This left very little for even a movie night out or gas money for low-budget camping weekend. We've been looking for ways to save and I decided to spend the $50 for a Costco membership. This has allowed us to cut our grocery bill in half. I'm able to buy all our groceries for the month, taking advantage of buying in bulk. We freeze meats, bread, veggies, coffee beans, you name it! Now we only supplement with fresh leafy greens from the grocery store. Coffee costs us pennies a cup, and I bring lunch to work for about $2 a meal. It only takes $40 to provide quality meats for us for about 4 weeks. My big indulgence now? I spent $20 on two novels, which was more than 12 chicken breasts. I remember when I had $150 a month to spend on food, soap, and paper products when I was in college. Making it stretch was so very very hard. I'm frustrated that in our society, the people who need the benefits of shopping at Costco are the least able to take advantage of economies of scale.
This photo was taken the day I graduated with my masters in college counseling from Western Michigan University in 2010. I am the first in my family to receive a graduate degree. This to me epitomizes the stratification of the middle class. It became a necessity for me to go on for my education after I graduated in 2005 and the economy went downhill. I was one of many college graduates who grew up in the Clinton era of prosperity and then, began college when the White House leadership changed parties. I applied for multiple jobs after earning my bachelors degree and consistently found positions with the same salary as someone with a high school degree. I knew in order to find more opportunities, it involved moving out of state or going back to school. I chose going back to school since I knew I would not be as motivated later in life and I did not have the means to move somewhere with more opportunities, however a higher cost of living. Since I graduated, I found a university position in which I advise students returning to receive their bachelors degree at a university center on a community college campus.
This is a picture of my daughters' school backpacks. It was taken on the front step of our house. It represents both the comfort and the underlying insecurity of growing up middle class. Comfort because parents can afford to provide their children with everything they need to thrive, insecurity because their children will have to make it in the world on their own merits and abilities without the cushion of wealth. The harder the children work in school and the more they achieve there, the greater their chances of making a life for themselves as adults.
I chose this photo of my mother and I, taken by my father in our yard in Stuart, Florida shortly before she died in 1996.
My mother was a nurse who worked in her father's doctor's office before she met my father. My father was in the Korean War then came home and went to college. He was planning to join the FBI but then he met my mother in 1959 and his priorities changed. (How they met is another lovely story.)
Both of my parents came from emotionally strong, fair-minded families who produced kind, hard-working offspring.
I was away in college when my mother had the stroke that left her hemiplegic with aphasia. I wanted to come home. My father would not allow it.
I spent my summers caring for my mother and when I finished school, I stayed home and took care of Mom because I was needed. My father didn't want me to. I don't know how else they would have made it. He paid for a nurse during the day and I helped during the day and took care of her at night until he got home.
My mother, for all her troubles, was a gentle, good-humored woman. She couldn't talk and she couldn't walk and she struggled to feed herself but she laughed often and loved us in spite of ourselves.
My father kept working to support us and keep the house when he should have been retired and they should have been relaxing. He was bankrupt but he never declared it. We had a nice house on a two and a half acre plot with a pond suitable for canoeing and fishing. It was Dad's rural dreamhouse. Even though it was humble and plain it was full of love.
Mom survived for 12 years after her stroke. I stayed in and cared for her for the last eight of those years. Dad sought help. Mom was able to participate in the county's day care program so she could get out of the house and we could have some respite but all Dad got from politicians and other programs was "God bless you." No local politician, governor, representative or congressman queried raised a finger to help in any way.
When Bill Clinton became president and Hillary Clinton was working on healthcare issues, I nagged Dad to write her a letter detailing our story. He got a call from The White House. He thought it was a joke. It wasn't. The Clintons were coming to South Florida and they wanted to meet Dad. They had been moved by his letter, not because of our problems but because Dad hadn't begged for help. He asked for a change that would prevent other people from having to go through the same thing. He didn't want other children to give up their dreams or for other people to have to keep working into their 70s and beyond just to survive.
Meeting the Clintons was all the reward Dad has ever gotten on earth for taking care of my mother instead of abandoning her in a nursing home. Later, when he traveled to Europe to report on World War II anniversary events, President Clinton spotted him standing aside in a crowd and left his entourage to shake his hand again.
We work hard to support ourselves. We love each other. We don't have all that much but we are proud to work for what we do have. We could complain but we keep on working instead.
Caring for my mother left us with nothing much. Dad, who eventually remarried, is still working full-time at 81. It keeps him going, I think. I'll be 47 this year and have no retirement savings because I find myself, also, bankrupt but not declaring it. I'm stubbornly holding on, too. It's what we do.
This is a picture of my son asleep in the back of the car on a family road trip to California. The car is second hand, his shirt was a gift and we are on our way to stay at Grandma's House. To me if represents middle class because thats what we are and that what we do. We more often drive then fly for vacations. We live on a budget and sometimes things are tight. But we always make it.
This is the view from the front porch of my modest home in beautiful North Torrance, California. It is of the American flag I fly proudly every day since I have owned the home. I chose it because there is nothing more American than being part of the middle class. The past five years have clearly shown how much the middle class supports this country from assisting those in poverty to bailing out those on Wall Street. And through it all, members of the middle class refuse to quit. We show up for work everyday and live our lives as best we can in the eternal belief that tomorrow promises to be better. I cannot think of anything more that defines the middle class or what it means to be an American.
It is a scene you would see driving around any middle class neighborhood in America. It speaks of creativity, initiative, resourcefulness, determination and an appreciation for what it means to earn your way, sentiments that I believe are integral to the middle class.