A new report titled “The Myth of America’s ‘Culture of Consumerism’: Policy May Help Drive American Household’s Fraying Finances” has examined what is preventing American middle class families from tightening their spending.
American middle class family finances have been damaged for decades as a result of unrestrained household spending, despite a decline in consumer prices due to globalization and technological changes.
There has been a decline in the amount of spending on products that fulfill pleasure or social status needs – such as clothes and automobiles.
However, middle class household spending for housing, education, health care, and commuting has increased steeply.
In fact, according to the analysis, the prices for these four different markets – commuting, health care, education and housing – have risen much more rapidly than wages and overall inflation.
The pressure to overspend on housing is driven by the belief that better housing is generally associated with superior public services, schools, and infrastructure.
Compared to other developed countries, the American middle class face a “high well-being penalty” for living in lower priced homes. The country does not do as much to ensure that families have access to these products and services.
Middle class problems
The costs of tuition and health care have been shooting up and are the fastest-growing problems for people living with household financial distress in America.
The American middle class is facing a dilemma in choosing sustainable finances over access to quality schools, medical care, public safety, and child care.
Queens College (Canada) sociologist Joseph Nathan Cohen, has examined how other countries deal with provision of essential services in different less financially damaging ways.
“Canada’s policies control the personal financial burden of accessing essential services, which might be why household finances are in better shape there.”
Cohen will be presenting the report at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.