They will suffer lifestyle reversals. Over the past decade, millions of Americans have had unprecedented access to affordable luxuries, thanks to brands like Coach, Whole Foods, Tiffany and Starbucks. These indulgences were signs of upward mobility. But these affordable luxuries will no longer be so affordable. Suddenly, the door to the land of the upscale will slam shut for millions of Americans.
The members of the formerly middle class will suffer housing reversals. The current mortgage crisis is having its most concentrated effect on people on the lowest rungs of middle-class life — people who live in fast-growing exurbs in Florida and Nevada that are now rife with foreclosures; people who just moved out of their urban neighborhoods and made it to modest, older suburbs in California and Michigan. Suddenly, the home of one’s own is gone, and it’s back to the apartment complex.
Finally, they will suffer a drop in social capital. In times of recession, people spend more time at home. But this will be the first steep recession since the revolution in household formation. Nesting amongst an extended family rich in social capital is very different from nesting in a one-person household that is isolated from family and community bonds. People in the lower middle class have much higher divorce rates and many fewer community ties. For them, cocooning is more likely to be a perilous psychological spiral.
In this recession, maybe even more than other ones, the last ones to join the middle class will be the first ones out. And it won’t only be material deprivations that bites. It will be the loss of a social identity, the loss of social networks, the loss of the little status symbols that suggest an elevated place in the social order. These reversals are bound to produce alienation and a political response. If you want to know where the next big social movements will come from, I’d say the formerly middle class.
I already live in an apartment building so no worries there.
But, I'm really gonna miss Starbucks. Of course, I never really could afford Whole Foods, or as I like to call it "Whole Wallet."