The struggles of America’s “forgotten middle class”

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The middle class, often considered the backbone of America, faces a critical challenge, especially among those nearing retirement age.

These individuals, who don’t earn high incomes but don’t qualify for government assistance programs, are undergoing tough times.

Researchers from the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and Columbia University have delved into their health and financial situations, revealing potential implications for healthcare systems and the economy at large.

Health and Well-being Challenges

The study focused on people in their 50s and projected their lives into their 60s. The findings showed that wealthier individuals are enjoying longer, healthier lives compared to the past.

However, those in the lower-middle class are facing health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

For instance, a 60-year-old woman in this group may live to age 84, but nearly half of those years could be marred by health problems. This represents a deterioration in their health status compared to 1994.

Financial Struggles

The research also examined the financial health of these individuals in comparison to their predecessors.

While the wealthier segment experienced a 13% improvement in their financial situation, the lower-middle class saw only a modest 3% increase.

Homeownership, a quintessential aspect of the American Dream, is becoming increasingly elusive for this group. The homeownership gap between the lower-middle class and the upper-middle class has tripled since 1994.

The “Forgotten Middle” Dilemma

This demographic is often referred to as the “forgotten middle” because they do not earn enough to be financially comfortable but earn too much to qualify for government assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps.

Consequently, they are caught in a challenging situation where they must bear the burden of rising healthcare and housing costs on their own.

Managing these expenses becomes even more challenging when their health is deteriorating.

The struggles of a significant portion of society can have far-reaching consequences. Their poor health places additional strain on the healthcare system, leading to increased demand for medical services.

Financially stressed individuals may be unable to contribute to the economy or may require emergency assistance, affecting the broader community.

This issue extends beyond the lower-middle class; it affects society as a whole. Policymakers often prioritize assistance for the most disadvantaged, but this study underscores the importance of considering a broader range of individuals in policy decisions.

The Need for Action

Although some provisions of the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) in 2014 provided health insurance benefits to some in this group, it was insufficient. Many still lost other forms of health insurance previously provided through their jobs.

This study serves as a crucial wake-up call, highlighting the need for policymakers to address the “forgotten middle” by designing or adjusting programs that can offer meaningful assistance.

Neglecting this group poses long-term challenges for society. A robust middle class is vital for a thriving America, and overlooking their struggles may lead to more significant problems in the future.

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The study was published in Health Affairs, emphasizing the need to address the concerns of the “forgotten middle” for the overall well-being of society.

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