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What Does the Middle Class Look Like in 2021?


The uncertainty of the pandemic

I wrote about what it was like to be in the middle class living in the Philippines back in 2016. It’s turned out to be one of my most viewed articles to date. Although my take back then was somewhat pessimistic, I take none of it back. In 2021, the gap between the rich and the poor is still wide. And this applies regardless of where you live or earn your living. The people in between (if there even is an in-between) is the so-called middle class; a class of people falling within an income bracket where there’s some flexibility, but not too much flexibility. I don’t have the exact figures to identify a person as falling within this so-called middle class, and in 2021 the distinctive features have become blurrier.

The uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic has brought challenges to all classes of people whether rich, poor, or in-between. The pandemic can be considered as a great equalizer, especially with the situation today where even very wealthy people suffering from Covid can hardly get admitted to a hospital because of this current wave of infections driven by the Delta variant. However, I wish not to dwell on this issue and the whole situation with Covid – I just couldn’t stop myself from mentioning the context in which I wrote this article.

Limbo and the Great Resignation

I feel like right now, the middle class is in a state of limbo. A big chunk of the people who belong to the middle class are working-class people. And my perception is, there are two major things that are happening right now for the working class.

First, is the phenomenon of the Great Resignation. This subtle occurrence is probably being felt by the United States more than anywhere else, but I can’t say it isn’t happening in the Philippines. In the U.S. where some big companies are ordering (not inviting) their employees back to the office, you are seeing people turning in their resignation letter and looking for a remote job (even if it means less pay) than having to go back to an office setup.

The second major thing that’s happening within the working class is Career Crisis. Working within the pandemic has exposed just how some jobs are overdependent of having a mass of people around – take for example the restaurant industry, theaters, event organizing, etc. There are countless stories of workers from these industries quitting the job they’ve had for several years in order to pivot to a job that’s less dependent on people congregating, and at the same time one that probably pays more. And so when I listened to one of the episodes of a podcast by the Wall Street Journal, I realized that the labor crisis that happened when things opened back up in the 2nd quarter was not just caused by a surplus of jobs, but it was also caused by a unprecedented collective career pivot by workers.

What will the middle class look like when this pandemic is over?

Hopefully, members of this middle class will still have the perks it used to have before the pandemic. Hopefully, air travel will experience some form of revival and the tourism industry will go through a big boom. And another big hope of mine is that this period within the pandemic of the Great Resignation will turn the tides in favor of the ordinary middle-class worker.

Companies should actually try to go out of their way to make a worker feel like they are well compensated. They would actually try to respect the worker’s time and provide some space for living. Because this whole work-from-home thing during the pandemic – and I know it’s mostly for the privileged ones who were able to continue working their jobs at home – this is just not a sustainable model of working. There are probably companies out there that have policies to ensure that an employee does not become overworked and sets clear boundaries between work life and home life, but most of the time, that line is crossed. Standard work hours seem to have become a thing of the past.

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A longer road to true recovery

With the pandemic stretched out longer than we ever anticipated, it looks like there will also be a longer mental recovery period once it ends. The pandemic has left humankind traumatized, with the unprecedented loss of life and loss of livelihood. We tried to pick ourselves back up when we started vaccinating people, but it looks like right now that we are still far from the finish line.

Lockdowns are happening again, all over the world, and people are both physically and mentally exhausted going through this process. People are also tired of only seeing Covid in the news if not every day, but every hour or minute.

That’s why once this is all over, in God’s time, there’s going to be a long recovery period. It will take time for us to recalibrate ourselves back again to normal human living.

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