Elizabeth Warren, a Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard and currently the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, has been warning about the demise of the middle class for a long time. She has spent much of the last three decades studying the middle class. In her book, The Two-Income Trap, she found that modern American households are worse off than their counterparts of a generation ago, even in two-income families. Today’s families literally cannot afford not to borrow, and unregulated financial products, with their limitless interest rates and myriad fees, are literally killing them.
In the December 3rd edition of the Huffington Post, she asked her readers to imagine “America Without a Middle Class” . She writes”
Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.
She goes on to point out that the rules have changed for the current generation and the rules that apply to American families don’t apply to banks. To survive, middle class families started relying on two incomes or multiple jobs, but they were unable to keep up with higher expenses, many generated by banks, while wages remained flat. Banks quickly took advantage of this income/expense disparity and happily sold debt to the middle class, enjoying huge profits, made off the very people they were supposed to be protecting. Extreme fees, deceptive terms, and uncontrolled contracts became the new star banking product. Then when this new banking paradigm failed, the banks asked for more of the middle class’s money, in the form of taxes, to “prevent” a so-called economic crisis. All the while the bank executives maintained their jobs and bonuses while average Americans slipped deeper into crisis.
It’s going to take some brave thinkers and intelligent journalists to bring this issue to the forefront and some even braver politicians to make changes needed to reverse the devastating effects of Reaganomics, corporate protectionism, disregard for human rights, and bad industrial and labor policies. In the meantime, we have a growing population that is faced with immense stress, and very few health resources to combat it as they loose the little health coverage they may have had. I have no doubt that the thousands and thousand of Americans that can’t find a decent job or are scared to answer the phone for fear of it being a debt collector or the bank’s foreclosure department, are experiencing very high levels of despair. Loss of one’s job and a change in financial status are among the top ten most stressful life events. Add to that a personal injury or illness and the inability to pay for it and your stress level is off the charts.
Stress has been a topic of concern for about as long as Warren has been talking about the downfall of the middle class. Time magazine’s June 6, 1983 cover story called stress “The Epidemic of the Eighties” and referred to it as our leading health problem. Chronic stress leads to multiple health problems and diseases. According to the American Institute of Stress,”there are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis, the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. In fact, it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected.”
As I pointed out in my previous post, “Healthy Living is the Best Revenge“, it is up to the individual to take responsibility for his or her own health. No doubt this is extremely hard when you are faced with sometimes devastating effects of chronic stress such as depression or debilitating diseases. Yet no matter what we are faced with, there are steps we can take to combat stress, no matter what its causes. The most obvious and easiest to do are in your complete control:
Meditation or similar activity
We can all do something, every day to counteract the effects of stress. Some people prefer to make overnight “cold turkey” changes, while others prefer to incorporate small steps over a longer period of time. We can make changes to our health by moving our bodies just a little more than yesterday, or changes in our democratic system by writing a letter to our representative about how we feel about the disappearance of the middle class. Feeling a part of the process and a part of the change towards a better life is one of the best stress busters I know.