Why the Middle Class is so Busy

The average middle class American family incorporates so many tasks into everyday life that families are busier than they have ever been before. Like most middle class dual income families, the families discussed in Busier Than Ever published in 2007 by Charles N. Darrah, James M. Freeman, J.A. English-Lueck; find themselves juggling work, parental involvement, extracurricular activities kids partake in, volunteerism, religious church activities, and many more. The underlying reason why these and the rest of American families alike take on so much is due to the pressures middle class families face to maintain their economic standing and have their children as adults move up in the social and economic system. Recent study shows there is a greater range of mobility among middle class families than in upper class or lower class families. All though this greater range of mobility is ideally seeing as positive, the high level of employment insecurity, decrease in wages, and the heavily structured class system, say the contrary and in return add to the nervousness and pressures middle class families experience.

The families in Busier Than Ever go to great lengths to accomplish the big picture goal, to maintain their economic standing, which in the end results to an incredible amount of busyness. For example, the case of the Carlsbergs who volunteer at one of their child’s school to attain more influence and become better known. Their motivation was to get their son admitted to a private school. For a lot of these cases and for most part of the middle class, focus is laid on the children so they can grow up to go to good colleges, be successful in college, have the best job opportunities available, and so on. When parents put their focus on the children in attempts to design a successful path for their children, like previously mentioned, they impose an enormous load of busyness that involves not only the parents, but also the children. For example, the case of Binh and Sheila, whose case may be very similar to a lot of parents who know exactly what kind of future they want for their kids. Bin and Sheila’s kids were involved in after-school activities like martial arts and piano practice and guided routines like church youth activities, and working in a family vending business. According to Binh, the father, the skills acquired through extracurricular activities and rigid routines were to prepare them to be successful hard working, well-educated  adults. Another family that heavily centered around the values they transmitted to their children, was the family of Linda and Arthur. Linda and Arthur reminded me a lot of my parents and probably of  many other parents in middle class households, whose focus was education. Parents like mine and Linda and Arthur tried to instill the importance of higher education into their children, they used the famous line of “do you want to work at Mcdonalds all your life” or “do you want to become good at saying, do you want fries with that?.”

Coming from parents with a low socioeconomic background, they came to this country with a purpose. They brought my siblings and I and inculcated us the importance of education. Now that they have worked years of hard physical labor and have reached middle class, they still harder than ever work to maintain their economic standing, because they know how vulnerable to downfalls the middle class is. They also more than ever try to prepare us with what it takes to live comfortably in this country. They have actively sought out that me and my siblings perfect and practice Spanish. For them speaking Spanish at home is not enough, they have home-schooled us so we could perfect our reading and writing skills in Spanish and to also maintain a proper Spanish, so to not let our language skills get contaminated by Spanglish or as how my mother puts it “that linguistic garbage.” My parents are well aware of the high demand of bilingual people in the workforce, especially in California and for that reason they have worked hard for me and my siblings to recognize that our bilingual skills and education come first.

Another distinctive way that families are busy, is their work life. As most people know and as Busier Than Ever describes, work doesn’t just stay within the realms of the workspace, it seeps into home life and every other aspect of life. Every working breadwinner can attest that sometimes work occupies more than one realm of life and that today’s technology facilitates this dynamic. Another reality is that in order to be a valued employee one must stay on top of the game in any field, one must put in extra hours, continuously learn the new advancements in the field of work, find new and efficient ways to be effective and productive in your position. The middle class is constantly pressured to reinvent and redefine themselves. So many middle class workers are forced to go back to school, go through graduate programs,  and become more certified in their field of work because of the employment insecurity. The pressures and nervousness may stem from the recession that began in 2001, where millions of middle class families lost their home and jobs.

In the case of  my boyfriend’s middle class mother and stepfather, whose struggle to climb the ladder in the field of corrections in order to secure a high paying job position so they can fulfill their goal to retire at age 50 with a comfortable lifestyle, has meant a lot of added busyness. The mother, who is a correctional counselor has to constantly be assessed through a test to assure that she’s up to date with procedures and also to assure that her work performance is up to par with the strict intricacies and guidelines of the women’s prison she works at. Her husband who is a correctional officer is under the same scrutiny. He works long hours and with the same risk of any small slip up possibly terminating his career.

The cases of the families in Silicon valley during the booming 1990s, discussed in Busier Than Ever are not so different than families all over America in the 2000s. So when you ask yourself why you’re so busy and why every other family you know is always so busy as well, know that maybe subconsciously or consciously you and every other middle class family is also preparing their children for the realities of life in a new economy and that you yourself are trying to keep the American dream alive in securing a spot in the middle class economic system.

by Jessica Gomez

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