America’s longest running comedy, The Simpsons, portrays the ideal suburban family. The dad with a high school diploma and a union job, providing for his stay-at-home wife and three kids in a huge house with a two car garage.
This is called a “nuclear” family, and it was very common not so long ago, but that enchanting lifestyle is no longer considered middle class.
In the 80’s, many families lived as The Simpsons did – one middle class income, a homemaker, a nice house, little debt, with just a tiny bit of wiggle room in the budget.
In an episode from 1996, we learn that Homer Simpson’s income is $25,000. The median salary in 1996 was $35,000 – if the Simpson family was in the same spot relative to the nation in 2023, Homer would make a little under $50,000, which is still only about 60% of the United States median income.
However, as a non-college educated man with a union job, people like Homer are in even worse trouble today. Union membership has fallen from 15% in 1996 to 11% in 2022. When you lose members – you lose collective bargaining powers. In states with a weak union presence, you make on average about $1,500 less than states with powerful unions.
In the 1993 episode “Last exit to Springfield,” Mr. Burns, Homer’s billionaire boss, tries to cut the dental plan as Homer’s daughter needs braces. Homer decides to lead the union in a strike and he eventually gets the plan back. With the union busting and decline of the last thirty years – this would not have been as effective in 2023.
Not only have wages barely increased – purchasing power of a salary of $42,000 (which would’ve been a phenomenal salary just thirty years ago) – has decreased drastically. The average house costs 2.4 times what it would in the 90’s. College education costs 1.8 times what it did then.
Homer’s wife, Marge, would absolutely have needed a job as well if the show took place in modern day – and still, they would struggle.
Inflation has led to more two-income houses but LESS stability for that type of family as prices have risen, with wages stagnating.
This show was supposed to be about a dysfunctional family barely clinging onto middle class life at the end of the Reagan years and during Clinton’s presidency. Now – their lifestyle is close to unattainable. That is the sickest joke in the entire series. This is how far our country has fallen.
The showrunner for The Simpsons, Al Jean, says that the family was meant to be middle-of the road economically. “I was born in Detroit. And when I was born in ’61, you know, people would go, oh, you can get a job on the assembly line and, you know, whatever. It paid up to $30 an hour guaranteed. It’s a great job. You know, Detroit’s always going to be making cars.” Jean said. Not only has Detroit stopped making that many cars – but manufacturing jobs in general have halved – going from 16% of all jobs in 1990 to a measly 8% today.
Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns would be probably the only character better off today then when the show first aired. Back in the 90’s, CEOs “only” made 58 times as much as their workers. Now, on average, they make 278 times as much as the worker. This is due to Reaganomics, a conservative economic policy started by former President Ronald Reagan who slashed tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations.
The theory was that the wealth would trickle down. Since then, the five recessions that have taken place have all happened under Republican presidents operating under trickle down economics, and the misguided belief that literally taking money out of the pockets of the poor could “help” them.
A few decades ago, being in the middle class meant stability for the future – now, it means going into debt over simple things like dental visits, education and even housing. The stability that placed families squarely in the middle four, five, six decades ago is gone. If people have no stability, their lives aren’t middle class anymore – they’re struggling.
Hey, I’m Noah and I am a staff writer on The Mycenean. I participate in Executive Council and I am on the autism spectrum which is useful for retaining information about my special interest, politics.