Our view — Disappearing middle class is a community problem | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Our view — Disappearing middle class is a community problem

People are leaving Tahoe in droves in search of the American Dream because it is not attainable here.

White picket fences, mortgage payments, roof repairs, nesting, building equity, a place to call home today and on into retirement — these are the things people often think of when they hear the phrase American Dream.

As defined by Webster’s, the American Dream is “the U.S. ideal according to which equality of opportunity permits any American to aspire to high attainment and material success.”

Those words can be interpreted a number of ways.

If we dissect the definition, we come to the conclusion that there is not equal opportunity to aspire to high attainment in Tahoe whereby people will reap material success.

The median household income in 2001 in South Lake Tahoe was $34,707. That means there are just as many people making more than that amount as there are making less than it.

We are asking families to survive on this amount. We are asking them to pay their utilities, rent (presumably they do not own their residence), food and clothing out of this. There will be no vacations, little if anything set aside for retirement, no college savings.

There is nothing on our birth certificates that says we have the right to the American Dream. But no one can stop someone from dreaming the American Dream. Maybe as a community we can do something about having more people make it a reality.

The reality now is a dream so elusive for many who live here that they are choosing to find it elsewhere. What does that say about us as a community?

What would the South Shore look like if the middle class disappeared and all that was left were the wealthy and the poor? Mansions and shacks. Lexuses and jalopies. CEOs and burger flippers.

There is the overused phrase “poverty with a view” that is tossed about when people talk about coping with the disparity between wages and the cost of living at Lake Tahoe.

There is little humor in the phrase because there is so much truth to it. People are having to bunk up together in order to make it here. Families are living in hovels. Then there is the opulence. There is little in between.

We are not alone in this predicament. San Jose is creating housing for teachers and other public employees who are in jobs notorious for being low paying. San Francisco is giving people a break with housing on Treasure Island.

There are no easy answers. If we could wave a wand and make things more fair, we would. It is no longer as simple as saying work hard, you will get ahead and have it all. Those were the old days.

We are talking about college educated people in Lake Tahoe making a salary that does not pay the basics. Without employers opening their books, it is hard to know if some people are getting wealthy on the backs of others. Or are prices here inflated because we know we can jack them up for the tourists?

It would be easy to say that we should live by Darwin’s words and have it be the survival of the fittest. We could turn our heads and let the middle class disappear. Again, we ask: What would our community look like if this were to happen?

If you don’t like the prospect of a South Shore without a middle class, then it is time to get involved with the groups that are popping up in town to address these issues.

In the end we are all going to be affected by a dwindling middle class. Let’s put our heads together and come up with a solution to the problem before it is too late.

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