Did you check the definition of middle class at the height of heated discussions on who will receive government subsidy during this pandemic?
I did. Me and my friends talked about it. I monitored sentiments on social media. It was a topic during our dinner at home. Based on the numbers that came out, we are a middle class family.
Did I get affected that my family have not received any relief package?
Yes and No.
Yes, because I felt that the government should take care of its people during crisis regardless of social status. This is the time that everybody should feel taken care of. It is not the amount of assistance given but the act of caring for people. So I also rant once in a while on social media because I have not received even a kilo of rice from government since the lockdown about six weeks ago.
No, because we are blessed to have food on the table at this time of crisis. My husband and I work from home so our salaries have not been suspended. We are fortunate to work with financially-stable, kind and generous employers who own companies that have so far withstand the impact of the lockdown.
But beyond monthly income, family expenditures, number of household members that define the standards for middle class, I have my own definition, ergo description, of middle class. This is my world -middle class and middle-aged.
Family, family, family
We belong to an extended family of nine including house helpers. By experience, it is more ideal for middle class couples who work full-time to live either near or with their parents. It has worked for us for more than 20 years. A helper managed the household while a nanny took care of our kids when they were small but our parents supervised them. This extended family setup has allowed me flexibility in my career as a full-time working mother.
Our parents helped us to take care of our boys since birth. Until now, my father brings them to school in the mornings. My eldest is very close to my mother that his decision to take up medicine is largely motivated by his desire to treat her illnesses. And yes, children reared by their grandparents are kind, sensitive, generous individuals. Next to parents, grandparents show utmost love for their grandchildren.
On a practical note, we cannot afford to house our parents separately. That would mean two sets of operating expenses such as electricity and water bills, food expenses, and the like. Social security pension in the country is not enough to support basic needs of the elderly. In our society, children are the elderly’s social protection. Maintenance medicines and other medical expenses of our parents are part of our monthly budget.
Me and my husband also grew up in this kind of family setup. Our grandparents lived with us until they died. So taking care of the elderly has been ingrained in us since birth.
Not to offend mothers from wealthy families, I do not have a busy social life that prevents me from spending time with my family. There was only one school activity of my youngest that I was not able to attend and until now I have not heard the end of it. My weekends are spent chatting, and sometimes fighting, with my boys who complain of my omnipresence.
Work, work, work
Since I became employed in 1994 right after graduation from college, I have been a corporate slave. Having worked in government, the private sector, and an international organization, I can say that the rigors of a job in communications and public relations are the same in whatever industry. It is a 24/7 job characterized by writing, building relationships, dealing with media, and handling crisis communications. From the time that my kids turned one, official business travels have been a norm.
So it was also expected that I met my husband at work. Both of us worked in the corporate world. We spent thousands of hours on our jobs, devoted our most productive years to climb the corporate ladder. Hard work and persistence paid off. Before I retired from government last year to do consultancy projects, I was the vice president for public affairs of one of the biggest government-controlled corporations in the country. Being promoted to that position was my ticket to “freedom” from a grueling and stressful corporate life.
But freedom for a middle class working mother does not mean total freedom from employment. I just escaped from the required daily minimum of 10 hours in the office everyday but I still need to earn my keep. Albeit my husband earns well from his job in a conglomerate, I have to work so we can save and afford some luxuries.
In our more than 20 years of employment, me and my husband’s career choices have been largely influenced by the financial needs of our two boys. Transferring to another job meant that one of our sons moved to a higher level in school.
Money, money, money
Middle class motherhood means listing all monthly expenses, waiting for your partner’s salary and combining it with yours, then literally allocating each peso to a certain expense. Even weekly eat-outs and personal care and wellness like haircuts and vitamins are included in the monthly budget.
Tedious budgeting stems from being middle class. We have enough but not too much. In fact, middle class families is just one medical tragedy away from bankruptcy. Lifetime savings could easily be wiped out by a heart or liver transplant that cost millions.
We rely heavily on our employment compensation. Annual bonuses are allocated for my kids’ tuition fees. Like my middle class friends, we put a premium on education. & it comes to schooling of our children, there is a very thin line that divides upper, middle, and lower middle class as defined by economists. I have friends who send their kids to premier schools but they sacrifice family travels or eating out or watching movies. I told these friends that I “won’t be able to buy panties if I send my kids to that school”. We earn almost the same but we have different perspectives in the cost of quality education.
Savings is a tricky topic among us. For more than four years now, our entire monthly savings which is a quarter of our combined income, go directly to a mutual fund that we can use in time for the medical schooling of our eldest. We rely heavily on our salaries and by projection, even with regular salary increases over time, we might be financially compromised when our two boys study medicine at the same time. Again, we value the education of our children.
We also save for insurance premiums. With limited real estate assets, we have to make sure that our kids are provided for in case of a financial contingency in the future.
On expenditures, it is true that a significant portion of our monthly budget as a middle class family is spent on food. Wet market is every Saturday while grocery shopping is once a month. There have been several times in the past when a seller asked me if the meat I bought was for a party or for two weeks consumption.
To be able to travel abroad, my husband has to accept part-time consultancy work during weekends. For local travels, I do project-based writing jobs. To afford luxuries like travelling, we have to work double-time.
Back to the relief package and middle class issue, am I still waiting for a bag of relief goods?
The answer is a resounding yes. I look forward to sharing it with my dance instructor who lost his job when the gym closed due to the lockdown. Unlike my rich friends who are able to donate large sums of cash, I could only help the family of my dance instructor who has a one year old baby. I want to help more but my limited financial resources prevent me.
Government says it is important to expand the number of middle class families who fuel the economy. I have not lost hope that a plastic of relief goods would land on my doorstep soon.
This is a snapshot of my life – not first class or high class – but middle class. Let’s explore more of the world of middle class experiences and realities in the next issue of this online column.