100 Voices | Professor says higher quality items a factor in middle-class change
Shaela Ellis just made one of the biggest purchases of her life.
She bought a home by herself, here in Dauphin County, at the age of 29.
"It was overwhelming, a little bit scary, but in the end I think I found a good home and a good location,” Ellis said.
But to get to this point, it took hard work and planning ahead. Shaela says she went the practical route when choosing her career.
"With my choice for the career the path that I chose for dental hygienist, I kind of looked into what had the highest salary with the least amount of schooling and cost of education. That's kind of along the lines of where I based what I wanted to go into,” Ellis said.
According to Salary.com, the average income for a dental hygienist in Pennsylvania is between $67,000 and $71,000.
In Dauphin County, The PA Department of Revenue’s 2014 report shows about one third of couples who filed jointly ranked in the middle class, which is a household income between $30,000 and $75,000.
For those whole filed single, those in the middle class made up a quarter of the total returns.
Altogether, between a quarter and a third of people fall into the middle class in PA.
"If you think that you kind of live like other American families, whether you're a bit lower income or whether you're a bit higher income, that's with the middle-class means to people,” Economist at the Keystone Research Center Stephen Hertzenberg said.
But how has the middle class changed over the years?
Shaela and her father Tom Connolly are a prime example.
"The age that Shaela is now, moving into a home as a single professional adult, when I was that age Shaela was already in school and I had a second young child and we both made the move into Swatara Township, but the house that she purchased actually cost more than the house that I purchased,” Tom Connolly said.
"I think the older generations, as far as what they had for middle income or middle-class American, might be a little bit different and that's part of the growth of the standard of living. The technology we have and things like that most people or a lot of Americans spend a lot of money, on cell phones and things like that, the car that they drive and all those are higher quality items now than they were 10-15 years ago,” David Buehler, Assistant Professor of Economics at Penn State Harrisburg, said.
Buehler says the decision to delay major life choices has become common place among today’s millennials and is partially due to their mindset and what they value.
"It's true that a lot of people decided that their dream was whatever it was and they were going to pursue that career path even if it doesn't pay that well,” Ellis said.
But also contributes to the growing cost of college. While Shaela went the practical route, she says many of her friends did the opposite.
"I know a lot of them pretty much a full paycheck goes towards loans each month, whereas, that's not the case with choosing to go to a community college for dental hygiene,” Ellis said.
So is this the new norm for the middle class.
While people graduate from a four-year college with large amounts of debt forcing them to delay big life choices or choosing a career path like Shaela’s.
"I think most people would probably define middle income as our middle class is more based on what they're doing with their money as far as comfort level, whether or not they have debt, whether or not they're saving for retirement or the future, whether or not they're able to take a family vacation or something like that,” Buehler said.
President Donald Trump promised during his campaign major tax reform, saying he’ll reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three.
Trump has stated a middle class family with two children will get a 35 percent tax cut.
According to Forbes, middle class families could receive up to an extra $1,500 in their pocket.
But those in the upper class could see more than $16,000.
So will these cuts really help the middle class?
"He has proposed income tax cuts generally across the board. Now, some of those are projected to benefit some of the upper income people possibly a little bit more, but part of it is saying well across-the-board everybody's going to have more money in their pocket and so that's one of the issues whether or not we're saying those middle income families are going to have more money or are we talking about something that may grow income and equality based on these tax cuts,” Buehler said.