The extinction of the middle class

Ed Raymond

Did you know 20% of American seniors have no natural teeth?

It always seems to take that old irascible, messy-haired Democratic-Socialist from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, to remind us why the richest country in the world just doesn’t give a damn about the health of its people. Or, at least, those in power are too busy running to the bank or a tax haven, to care about anybody else.

When I read his rather horrifying research about our dysfunctional health care system neglecting body, soul and teeth, I decided to count how many teeth I have left. I have 19 left out of 32 at the moment, but only two do not have fillings.

Naturally, Bernie has his facts straight before introducing a bill to add dental benefits to Medicare and Medicaid, which would cover 115 million older and lower- income Americans. We see beautiful smiles 24/7 advertising toothpaste, mouthwash, tools, bridges, implants, dental insurance and other teeth “stuff.” But let’s look at the facts.

One in five Divided States of America seniors have no natural teeth. Half of DSA adults have some kind of gum disease that leads to tooth destruction. A little personal history. As a poor farm boy, I did not see a dentist until I was 19 and in Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. I lost three teeth to football at Moorhead State because that was before any kind of face mask or guard. I also had a broken nose. I lost two front teeth and gained a bridge when I fell off a scaffold while constructing a metal building. Stuff happens.

Bernie states that nearly 69 million adults and almost 7 million children do not have any dental insurance, and those with insurance still have big bills. Bernie says: “Any objective look at the reality facing the American people recognizes there is a crisis in dental care in America. Imagine that in the richest country in the world.”

I think of a brother and a sister who raised families in Los Angeles – and had all of their family dental work done in Mexico because it was one/tenth the cost. This has been going on for generations. In 2020, an estimated 490,000 went to other countries, usually Mexico, for lower cost dental care while more than 200 million Americans went to emergency rooms because of tooth pain.

Bernie sums up his reasons for his bill: “Having bad teeth or poor teeth is a badge of poverty. I’m tired of seeing constituents covering their mouths when they laugh and lose jobs because of missing teeth.” His bill has received 92% approval in a recent voter poll.

When will elderly members of the middle class keep most of their teeth?

If poor teeth are a badge of poverty, shouldn’t a government have the goal of destroying the badge? Shouldn’t everyone in a society have the economic means to have most of their teeth when death comes?

What is a middle-class family? What does it take to be middle class?

Most surveys include these categories:

(1) A secure job,

(2) Ability to save money for the future and retirement,

(3) Ability to afford an emergency $1,000 expense without debt,

(4)Ability to pay all bills on time,

(5) Having health, dental and eye insurance,

(6) Ability to retire comfortably,

(7) Having a job with paid sick and parental leave,

(8) Time and money for vacations,

(9) Own a home or rental one that provides comfortable accommodations,

(10) College educations for children.(This information from several polls.)

The big question is: how much must your annual salary be to satisfy the above categories? Well, it depends whether you live in Gonvick, Minn., or Los Angeles, Cal. A nice, three-bedroom, two bath home in Gonvick may cost you $150,000 while the same is $1.5 million in LA.

None of the “happiest” countries in the world are among the richest like we are, but they have almost eliminated poverty and homelessness through budgets, benefits, universal health care, child care, parental leave, fair taxes and responsible government. It would be an interesting and all-consuming chore to determine how much money you would have to make to belong to the middle-class in each DSA county. Some polls say it takes $68,000 to $204,000 on average to be a member.  

It’s interesting that the average median salary in the Divided States of America is $74,580. Another figure to confuse. The top 1% in each state makers from $374,712 a year in West Virginia to $955,261 in Connecticut!  

Our own Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes muttered this axiom: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” But it is much more important to have a large and stable middle class govern a civilized country instead of the greedy and narcissistic 1%.

Some say humanity is a rather predictable lot while others say experiences through the ages tell us every generation fails to learn from the underlying patterns of human behavior. Perhaps someone would like to ponder why the police chief of Palm Beach, Florida recently bought a Rolls Royce luxury sedan for $250,000 to use as a patrol car! He doesn’t say how much it cost to paint it and add flashing lights.  

Why young Americans are choosing Democratic-Socialism over capitalism

They have learned the history of the past 40 years that Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics has turned into “pissed-on” economics for jobs in “right-to-work-for less” states. The consolidation of corporations due to interpretation of antitrust and anti-union laws – and the rapid decline of unions – has resulted in a $50 trillion Reagan “tsunami-up” from the bottom 90% to the top 10%. And how did 45 million Americans ages 18 to 93 end up owing $1.7 trillion in college loans so many well-educated graduates cannot afford to crawl out of their parent’s basements to rent an apartment or buy a used car? Some debtors with 8% bank loans have not been reducing the principal for 20 years. Borrowers owe an average of $30,000 on the graduation gown. States have failed to recognize their failure to fund higher education during the “Reagan Revolution.”  

When he was elected governor, California was ranked first in the nation in K-12 and higher education. When he was buried, it was almost last. Parents and students have been funding higher education with high tuition and fees for more than 20 years. Public university tuition and fees are in the $15,000 to $25,000 range, while some private universities will top out at more than $100,000 a year in 2025. University presidents are no longer educators. They are fundraisers. No wonder there are a lot of vacancies at the top. It pays well, but it’s a lousy job. The average wedding in the Divided States of America costs $35,000 this quarter For those who can afford it, and the average groom is 30 or more and the bride is at least 28.

Sociologist Brad Wilcox directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. In his book Get Married, he claims that a third of young Americans may never marry because of early adult economic woes. Many will cohabit without wedding rings. The result?

Wilcox writes: “Fixing what ails America starts with renewing marriage and family life, especially in poor and working-class communities where the fabric of family life is the weakiest.” Married couples on average report more happiness, build more wealth together, live longer and their children seem to be more successful than those of cohabiting couples. Because divorces have reached a 50-year low, the share of children raised in intact families is slightly lower.  Surveys report that only 51% 0f American children start adulthood with the parents they started with.

A rather shocking note: More than two-thirds of working-class Americans without high school diplomas are not-and never have been-married!

Another shocking note: More than 100,000 dead bodies are unclaimed each year in the DSA because no loved ones show up to say goodbye. Have we reached the point, with more than 8 billion of us on earth and growing, that we are choosing privacy over society?

Our close relatives – the chimps, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas – always form new groups and tribes when their group gets too large. Greek philosopher Aristotle, more than 2,000 years ago, said Homo sapiens were “social animals.”

Have you watched the DSA House Oversight Committee in action lately? Anarchy! We don’t have a society where there is a chicken in every pot, but they never act on that. They are too busy trying to put a pistol in every nightstand and an AR-15 by the front door.  

Is the American empire crawling toward the world’s exit?

In his play As You Like It, Shakespeare has one of those famous speeches that will last until the earth burns up because his description of the seven ages of men and women 400 years ago parallels the life expectancy of an empire with its entrance and exit from the planet. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, The acts being seven ages.”

Stage 1: “At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.” (Mayflower, Indian tribes, Jamestown, Plymouth, first Black slaves)

Stage 2: “Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school.” (Boston Tea Party, George III, “merciless Indian savages,” Protestant religions)

Stage 3: “And then the lover, sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’s eyebrow.” (Bunker Hill, Concord, Paul Revere, Declaration of Independence, George and Thomas)

Stage 4:  “Then a soldier, jealous in honor, sudden, and quick in quarrel seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth,”  (Civil War, KKK, Sojourner Truth, Spanish-American War, World I and II, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan)

Stage 5:  “And then the justice, in fair round belly with good capon lin’d, with eyes severe and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws and modern instances; and so he plays his part.” (George Wallace, civil and voting rights, LBJ, Senator Claghorn, International Space Station, Clarence and Ginni Thomas, Samuel Alito)

Stage 6:  “The sixth age shifts into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles and nose and pouch on one side, a world too wide for his shrunk shank, and his manly voice turning again to childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound.” (Joe Biden’s speech trends, too many old senators, Tea Party, Proud Boys, Ammon Bundy, Donald Trump, Mickey Mouse, Putin, Hillary Clinton, Tucker Carlson, House Oversight Committee))

Stage 7:  “Last scene at all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (global warming, economic inequality, war crimes, poverty, tax havens, billionaires, Republican Party, Democratic Party, Supreme Court, and the Divided States of America)