Helping out the middle classHalf of the Korean adult population - exactly 50.1 percent - believe that they belong to the lower class, according to the latest survey by Hyundai Research Institute. The middle class usually refers to households which earn 50 percent to 150 percent of the median income on the overall income scale. Considering that 3.5 million won ($3,080) was the median income last year, those earning from 1.75 million won to 5.25 million won a month - who took up 64 percent of all income earners - should be categorized as middle class, and the rest, 15.2 percent, as members of the lower class.
What the survey suggests is that many among the middle class believe that they are poor or getting poorer. A study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs also showed similar findings, with 32 percent of the middle-class group considering themselves below that category. To put it simply, the middle class is rapidly losing confidence.
The loss of confidence by the middle class, which plays a pivotal part in the economy - both in production and consumption activities - may raise serious social repercussions beyond our control. When people go into self-denial, it is mostly because they feel materially and financially insecure.
The ominous signs are not difficult to find. Those who said they have fallen into poverty singled out decreased income, increased debt, and job insecurity as reasons for their belief. Worse, they gave up hope. The majority - a whopping 98.1 percent - predicted that their circumstances would get worse. Those in their 20s cited job insecurity, while those in their 30s singled out debt burden. Those in their 40s blamed the high cost of educating their children and those in their 50s looked at retirement as an everyday battle.
The enormous pain and anxiety of the middle class could lead to its collapse any time. The middle class has already been stretched thin by credit cards and the global financial crisis. An irregular work force will likely form a new poverty group and may soon be joined by baby-boomers after their post-retirement businesses go bust.
The middle class is dying and needs immediate care. This year’s presidential candidates must develop concrete measures to sustain and restore the broken middle class instead of vying to increase welfare benefits and economic justice. What middle-class people need most of all are price stability and jobs. Those may sound like tired items on a campaign menu, but in times like these, they are the bread and butter that can help sustain the middle class.