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Voices of Wealth and Poverty: In the Middle

Courtney Kimsey and Jacqueline Byers, in their own words, talk about how their families manage on the median American income. 

Kai Ryssdal: We're launching a new long term project on the broadcast this week -- wealth and poverty in the United States. Our Wealth and Poverty desk is going to explore the growing economic disparity in this country. Its causes and its consequences, including the everyday impact. How we live our economic lives, depending on our place in that economy. We started yesterday with two people who're living just above the poverty line. Today, two others -- women whose household incomes are close to the median U.S. income of about $50,000 a year.

Jacqueline Byers: My name is Jacqueline Byers. I live in Kansas City, Mo.

Courtney Kimsey: My name is Courtney Kimsey. I live in Des Moines, Iowa. My husband is an engineer and I'm a freelance writer and editor.

Byers: I've worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City 12 years now.

Kimsey: It's a struggle sometimes to get by with what we have.

Byers: I make pretty good right now.

Kimsey: Our annual household income is around $48,000.

Byers: In between $40-45,000 a year, and I'd love to take more. But that's comfortable for me.

Kimsey: I love our neighborhood. It's very residential.

Byers: I'd describe it as a very quiet neighborhood.

Kimsey: We hear kids. We hear owls. We've seen foxes.

Byers: It feel safe when I pull in and out of the garage.

Kimsey: I feel really safe here and I love it. I love where we live. On paper we are definitely considered middle class, but we fit lower middle class.

Byers: I feel pretty much now I'm more in the middle class. Yes, I do have my emergency fund.

Kimsey: We basically live paycheck to paycheck. We have minimal savings.

Byers: And I have my 401(k) through the job.

Kimsey: So middle class is, we can go out to eat occasionally. But we can't buy a fancy new car. The things that I felt my parents could give me, I don't feel like I can give that to my children just yet.

Byers: My daughter, she's still in college. So just helping her finish out her last semester at college. She's got a lot of scholarships, so I don't have to pay the full amount.

Kimsey: When our second son was born, I left my job because of daycare issues and we had to cash out our retirement.

Byers: Travel. Travel and see the world. I want to be set financially so I can do just that. I've got my bills and my home and car lined up to where it's all taken care of and what's extra goes to the travel account. So that's my splurge money, that's my mad money.

Kimsey: When our youngest son can go to school then I'll go back to work full time. Having two salaries in our family will make an immense difference.

Byers: I think the wealth is very uneven.

Kimsey: There should be something done about this income gap.

Byers: I'm glad those who have it, have it. But...

Kimsey: There are so many people in this country who are struggling and there are few people who are not struggling. And...

Byers: It's stuck so high up at the top that I don't know how to get the money to flow where it should go.


Ryssdal: That was Jackie Byers from Kansas City, Mo., and Courtney Kimsey of Des Moines. We're gonna need your help to tell this story of Wealth and Poverty in America -- in words, sounds and pictures -- click here to find out how you can help.

Tomorrow on the broadcast, not the 1 percent, but maybe the top 25. Voices of the comparatively well off.

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Many struggle to get by and many get by just fine. These two women Kimsey and Byers portray exactly what the lower middle class is about. Working hard but just getting by, they dont have the money to buy some of the finer things in life such as a fancy new car or go and tracel the world. To me though it seems as if many of the people that make up the lower middle class mostly have chilldren and are obliged to take care of them in ways such as takeing up a part time job rather than work a full tim job that would pay more and have more benefits.

The gap between the different social and economic classes is getting bigger and bigger. Like above, the American population struggles with low salaries when at the same time, they have to pay for many things especially kids : college, ... People can not afford what they want anymore and they are facing a wall even if they are trying to save as much as possible.

The middle-class, as expected, is a place of struggle. If life was handed to you and money was not an obstacle than you can classify yourself as upper-class. Both of these women and their families make decent money, facing expenses that average Americans face everyday. I sympathize with them and the struggles they go through, but it does sound like they are middle-class, and doing okay when you look at the nationwide struggles people are going through in and after the recession.

I think the women in this article represent the dividing line between poverty and the working class really well. They get by and are proud in the work they do. This is more interesting than hearing about the extremes of the social class's. This is more relevant to more people than hearing about the poor or rich.

I thought it was interesting that on paper they were considered middle class but they actually wanted to admit that they were lower middle class. I think i would consider my family as middle class and we can afford our food clothes and we can go out to eat occasionally. It is also interesting that a mother would have to quit her job because she had a child and her daycare had issues. She then had to take out some of her retirement money so she could pay her bills and support her family.

When you are living in the lower or middle class there are a lot of unexpected expenses that have an affect on your life. Both of the women found themselves paying for education, the cost of raising a child, and monthly bills. Byers said that she lives comfortably with her annual income, while Kimsey said she found herself living paycheck to paycheck while trying to support her growing family. Kimsey was forced to leave her job to support her children, and had to dip into her savings in order to raise her son. This proves it is getting more and more diificult for Americans to live with a decent salary...and it is now even harder to strive for the American Dream.

I thought it was interesting that there were two women making around the same amount of money but had two very different perspectives. One seemed to be struggling to make ends meet and cashed out her retirement funds, but the other seemed to be able to save for travel, retirement and help her child with college. Instead of hearing the middle class perspective on this issue of the Wealth gap, I would like to hear it from the working class and see what their perspective is.

I feel that these two women are very good examples of what the working middle class has to go through to support their family. They talk about have how they have all of the necessities and they can splurge occasionally, but when it comes to “buying a new car” that isn’t always a possibility. I found it interesting that both this video and the “Voices of wealth and poverty: Better than most” Video both focus on their children. It shows how both classes struggle in supporting their children, and making sure that they have a good education and future. The lower income families do whatever they can to help support their children. The higher income families have also made sacrifices for their children, but they seemed to feel as if they were doing only an okay job with helping their children prepare for the future. These parents speaking in the “Better than most” video were concerned with their class interfering with their children’s lives, which I believe is true in both classes. Class is something that characterizes your entire life, that’s why it’s so important.

It is interesting to compare the "better than most" voices as opposed to the "in the middle" voices. The most apparent theme is children. Parents in both upper middle and middle classes struggle with trying to save and trying to give their children a chance to succeed in life. The lower income families tend to give what they can, but, as Kimsey says, "The things that I felt my parents could give me, I don't feel like I can give that to my children just yet". The struggle is apparent but there is still hope that actions will be taken to close the gap between classes. The higher income families on the other hand made sacrifices for their children, but they seemed to feel as if they were doing an okay job helping them on their way to success.

This is completely true. A lot of families identify themselves in a social class based on how well they can provide for their children. Most families will not have enough money saved up to send their children to college without a little trouble. But I also do not think that what parents can give their children today should be compared to what their parents could give to them. Times have most definitely changed and people shouldn’t compare their wealth status to their parents.

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