Indeed, growing up in the 1970s, my dad managed to keep us in a lower middle class lifestyle on the income of an Army sergeant first class–in the days before the Reagan pay hikes for soldiers boosted senior noncoms well into the middle class. But, yes, we had a smallish house, a single car, a single TV, no cable or satellite, no microwave oven, and very seldom ate in restaurants.Perhaps what we're seeing is what happens when too much is never enough, and not for the first time. The bad news about a missing middle class, however, might be misleading.
For that matter, college professors continue to make a perfectly decent living. It would in fact be quite realistic for the modern version of the emailer’s father to be able to have a house in the suburbs, send his kids to decent state school, and take modest annual vacations. Indeed, I know of college professors who do those very things! Indeed, most of them can afford to have people clean their house, mow their lawns, go out to decent restaurants, and otherwise live the middle class lifestyle to this very day.
What has indeed changed, aside from a much higher bar for what constitutes a “middle class lifestyle” (which, incidentally, is a very good thing) is that it’s much harder for someone with a high school education or less to do these things. We’ve lost a huge tier of high paying, low-barrier-to-entry jobs to overseas competition, technology, and other factors.
Still, the material life of the average American is doubtless much improved over the course of my lifetime. Things that were the stuff of luxury (massive televisions, video recorders, satellite television, cellular phones, multiple automobiles, personal computers) or science fiction (the Internet, let alone wireless everywhere) in my youth are now considered necessities for all but the very poor.
THE PERSON IS RICHEST WHOSE WANTS ARE LEAST.
A jaunt down memory lane, to consider Outside the Beltway's What Happened to the Middle Class, circa 2011.