There's been quite a bit in the media recently about the ''working poor''. How we have a growing underclass of people in New Zealand who will never be home owners, who live barely about the breadline, drowning in short term debt and heavily reliant on government support or charity to get through the week. The claim that most people are only 4 weeks away from bankruptcy. The growing numbers of under educated, poorly fed families who are a burden on our tax system.
All of which is probably true - but that's not what this post is about. The group that has come to my attention lately is not the truly poor, or even the working poor (as they are now known - those who work hard but still have nothing) , but the growing numbers in the middle class who are also barely making ends meet.
Before I got any further, let me say that these observations are in no way meant to ask for pity. Nor is my intention to induce a flurry of unsympathetic, albeit well meaning , notes of advice. I'm fully aware that most of the things listed below are ''choices''. And that the reasons for being middle class and broke are wide and varied - but seem to me to be largely rooted in ambition.
The middle classes aspire. They want to give their children the things they never had, or, more often, that they did have - music lessons, Saturday sports, new clothes, experiences. They want to own decent (read: reliable) vehicles.(which usually then have to be financed, but suggest better value than an old dinger that breaks down constantly). They generally are homeowners (ergo they have mortgages. And insurance. And rates.) They are educated (and are still paying off a student loan. They like the idea of a parent being available to care for children after school, and on sick days, and having someone 'at home'' running a household. They tend to have 1 1/2 incomes in their house rather than two full time. They do this because when you run the numbers, it's around the same as working full time and paying for care (and the subsequent headaches that go with school trips, sick days, and so on). As a result they end up, often, in the Working for Families merry go round - accepting tax relief because in no small part it actually works out more financially beneficial than the second income - and allows the flexibility already mentioned.
And so these families work hard. They really do. They pay their taxes, because its fiscally responsible. they pay all their school fees, full Doctors fees, house and vehicle insurance. They try and keep the car as modern as possible, not because it's a dream car, but because it works out cheaper in the long run. They buy as good quality food as they can - because they understand about nutrition and so on - but as a result probably spend more than most. They use people like naturopaths because it seems like the responsible thing to do (but end up spending a heck of a lot more staying well than the person who is broke, gets sick and turns up at A&E every couple of months). When their kid fails at school they pay for extra tutoring, which isn't covered by school fees because they've chosen to live in a ''good area'' and Decile 9 schools don't include that kind of extra support. Similarly, they support every kid that comes to the door with a fund raising book. Every community raffle. They do the odd charity donation because you never know when you might need that particular cause. They belong to St Johns Ambulance.
And so it goes on. These are good people. Smart, ambitious, focused, often environmentally aware and socially responsible. And they are going backwards.