Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Middle Class Wage in Montgomery County

The recent culture war hoo-hah about Obama's "bitter" remarks was an opportunity to revisit whats happening to living wage or "Middle Class Wage". The NYT did an excellent article on this, discussing how $20/hour, or $41,600/year, was considered the wage threshold for being "middle class".

The 2000 census data actually has some good info on this, based on a sample, where you can find out the median family income of a family of four (with at least one member working) for a census tract.

Using this, one can graph out how county census tracts fall. I use the following cut-offs to group the tracts:

1. "Official" poverty threshold for a family of four

2. The "Middle Class Wage" of $41,600

3. A median based on the median family incomes of all the tracts (the mid point of the tracts)

4. A break in the data where one sees a upward slop kick in for median income

...Using these and applying them to the distribution of tracts leads to these groupings:

One can see there is a substantial number of tracts were median income is below $41,600, but very few wealthy or poor tracts, indicating what we all know in our gut, that the Montgomery County is a very middle class place, with a broad mid range of incomes. This is a reflection of Dayton's past unionization, I think. The NYT reports that unions played a big roll in spreading middle-income wages into the economy in the postwar era.

That basic wage blossomed first in the auto industry in 1948 and served, in effect, as a banner in the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union. As the news media frequently noted, salt-of-the-earth American workers were earning enough to pay for comforts that their counterparts behind the Iron Curtain could not afford.

As the years passed, unions succeeded in negotiating this basic wage not as an ultimate goal but as an early rung in their wage ladders. That was the union standard, particularly in heavy industries, and in the early postwar decades nonunion employers fell into line, spreading middle-class incomes broadly through the service sector.

Dayton played a roll in the immediate postwar struggle for a middle class wage (or "Family Wage" as it was called at that time).

It would be interesting to revist this in 2010, to see if there is more of an income sorting to the top and bottome..more "below middle class" and "elite".

Mapping out the distribution of the lower middle class, below middle class (median family income below $41,600, ) and working poor tracts.

...its pretty noticable that there are large geographic areas that aren't making enough to be considered middle class, but not officially "poor" either, and these areas extend out into the suburbs, like Drexel and North Dixie Drive and Riverside and the Dayton Mall area.

One can assume familys in the "lower middle class" areas could be somewhat at risk, too, if wages drop or remain stagnant, jobs are lost, and inflation kicks in (and interesting to see extension into suburbia here, too, with New Lebanon, Kettering, Riverside, West Carollton, etc all showing up).

A close up of the city. The uncolored tracts all have higher than $61,000/year median incomes for a family of four....

Next, just a quick look at "The Elite", the affluent tracts at the top of the distribution. Whats noticeable is how concentrated wealth is in the area, with Oakwood west of Far Hills just dominating the distribution at a whopping $200,000 median income for a family of four! Oakwood east of Far Hills is at the bottom of this grouping, though.

Another interesting thing is the tract up in Vandalia with a fairly high median income, which is not something one associates with Vandalia.

An interesting comparison would be to map out political contributions ($200 or more) to see how they correspond to the geography of income. One would see how the affluent areas dominate contributions for both partys, with Obama and Clinton being as much "owned" by the affluent elite as the Republicans.

The fact is when it comes to the real, no-shit bread and butter issue, how much people make at work, neither party will be doing jack for the folks in the areas colored red and green in the map above.