Maintaining the middle classAccording to a recent survey on social status co-conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo and the East Asia Institute, approximately half the nation’s population believe they belong to the marginal middle class and fear that they could fall into a lower class category at any moment.
The term “marginal middle class” refers to a social standing on the borderline between the middle and low-income classes.
The percentage of people in this group has been on the rise in recent years. It stood at 27.8 percent in 2005, but increased from 35.8 percent last year to 48.7 percent this year.
Meanwhile, the number of people who are categorized as middle class but who don’t see themselves as such has been on the decline, dropping from 39.1 percent to 36.3 percent and 32.5 percent over the same period.
Our middle class has continued to shrink. The increase in the number of people who qualify as marginal middle class is an ominous sign of the economic pressure being placed upon this group.
However, if they give up on the idea that upward mobility is possible and begin to see themselves as sliding down the social ladder, the structural framework of society is bound to collapse, as the ranks of the middle class are thinned out.
There is no doubt that the collapse of the middle class and extreme socioeconomic polarization will lead to other problems including greater social unrest.
To prepare for the worst, we should spare no efforts, both material and moral, to prevent the marginal middle class from falling into a lower income group and encourage them to either move up or maintain their current position.
To this end, we should implement social welfare policies that address this goal as well as make growth-oriented policies to help keep them stay where they are.
Respondents to the survey replied that our most urgent task is to create more jobs. They insist that growth-oriented job creation policies are the most effective means of building a strong middle class, rather than income subsidies or tax exemption or reduction schemes for socially marginalized groups.
In particular, 56.4 percent of respondents replied that an increase in non-regular worker positions is essential to job creation efforts and say that it is one of the best ways to raise the income level of the lower class.
Meanwhile, the government and politicians should appreciate the extraordinary economic challenges facing the marginal middle class.
To address these issues, job creation measures will be the most effective and fundamental means of social welfare support.
We hope that policy makers realize that the first step toward preventing the middle class from falling into a lower income group must be job creation.