News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

Charlie Weston: Whole generation swimming against the tide

Charlie Weston

Published 02/09/2010 | 05:00

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NOT for nothing are middle-income earners sometimes called the coping classes.

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This is because they are the ones who always struggle on, despite bearing much of the burden of taxation and now unemployment, while getting few financial benefits from the State.

And never has that coping-class description been more apt than at the moment, as the great middle-class squeeze pushes more ordinary families to the brink financially.

A combination of spiralling unemployment and mortgage repayment problems means that many households are now just one bill away from financial meltdown.

Indeed, so bad has the situation become that to label it as a middle-class squeeze is probably too benign a description for what is happening.

The massive burden being borne by middle Ireland was exposed yesterday by new figures that showed a surge in mortgage arrears and a jump in job losses among the professional classes, while the Cabinet met to discuss more government cutbacks.

New figures showed that unemployment has surged to 455,000, with a 27pc rise in joblessness among the professional classes.

Almost 36,500 mortgage holders are now three months or more behind on their repayments. Three-quarters of those in arrears have not paid their mortgage for six months or longer. And the rate at which people are going into arrears is accelerating.

The bad news on employment and mortgages comes as the Cabinet renews its efforts to agree new expenditure cuts of €3bn.

Being middle class used to mean having a reliable job with fair pay, access to private healthcare, a safe and stable home, and the opportunity to provide a good education for one's children, including a college education.

There was a time when being middle-income meant time off for holidays and the security of looking forward to a dignified retirement.

Precarious

But today this standard of living is increasingly precarious. The existing middle class is being squeezed and many of those striving to attain the middle-class standard find it persistently out of reach.

Frightening figures yesterday from the Central Statistics Office showed that what it calls the professional classes are now taking a massive hit on the jobs front.

The number of people signing on, when adjusted for seasonal factors, was up 2,500 from July to 455,000.

The unemployment rate crept up from 13.7pc in July to 13.8pc -- levels not seen since the 1980s.

A breakdown by occupation showed that the biggest increase in the numbers signing on in the past six months has been in the professional category, which is up by 27pc.

The people losing out are the lawyers, architects and engineers, whose job losses are a direct result of the property collapse, and other professions are now being hit as a consequence.

Accountants, financial advisers, managers, temporary teachers, those who run small firms, and bankers in the likes of Halifax and Bank of Scotland (Ireland) are all being dumped out of jobs.

The coping classes are finding it harder to cope. They have been hit by job losses, wage cuts and mortgage hikes, have seen their pensions wiped out, and are struggling to meet private healthcare costs.

They look with envy on those who have retired with the last of the generous pensions, and those who got local authority housing.

If you are middle income, and in middle age with young children and a big mortgage, it is almost impossible to cope in this country.

Irish Independent

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