Slim Smith: The entitled Middle Class

October 20, 2012 11:05:55 PM

Slim Smith - ssmith@cdispatch.com

 

This being the season for politics, we hear a lot about "entitlements" these days, especially from deficit hawks and those who espouse small government. 

 

The very word itself has a pejorative connotation. People who have a "sense of entitlement" are often held up to ridicule. "He thinks the world owes him a living," you might hear someone say about a person who is suspected of "getting something for nothing." 

 

But if the word is rescued from its badly abused modern definition, you realize that entitlement can be applied across all socio-economic groupings. 

 

By definition, entitlement means having a right to something. There's nothing class-specific about that. 

 

When the word is used correctly, there is no clamor for cuts to entitlements. Is there anyone out there who would advocate taking from someone what they have a right to have?  

 

So you can see that the modern use of the term is hopelessly mangled. 

 

What people really mean when they use the word "entitlement" these days is something people think they have a right to have, but really don't. 

 

Big difference. 

 

The idea that some people think they have a right to food stamps or Medicaid or health care evokes anger among many folks. 

 

But my own personal experience tells me that this "sense of entitlement" is not the exclusive domain of the "morally-suspect" poor. 

 

You will find the same dynamic among the wealthy. And, yes, you will find it even in the Middle Class. 

 

Ah, the Sainted Middle Class, repository of all known virtues, coveted by Republican and Democrat alike, never to blame, always mistreated.  

 

I have to say I am thrilled to be in the Middle Class again, especially after being demoted from that esteemed status for about five years.  

 

Being poor for five years certainly gave me some insight into how the poor see the subject of entitlements. It is true, the poor do seem to have some peculiar sense of entitlement when it comes to food and clothes and shelter and health care. What the poor aren't particularly fussy about is the quality of the food, clothing or shelter or health care. Most just want some basic standard that will permit them to stay alive.  

 

Sure, every now and then, they might be tempted to buy a nice steak with food stamps, mainly to watch other shoppers convulse in a slobberin' fit over such tax-payer-funded extravagance. Hey, don't knock it: It's about the only amusement poor folks can afford. 

 

Mostly, though, the poor are content with a little. 

 

This cannot be said of the Middle Class who, if they are honest, will tell you they deserve this or that.  

 

Although I am one rich widow short of experiencing the Wealthy Class, I have been exposed to that elite group enough to know that their expectations are higher still.  

 

Of the three groups, I strongly suspect that nowhere is the sense of entitlement greater than in the Middle Class. 

 

Don't believe me? Try denying the right to the latest smart phone to a member of the Middle Class. Watch the price of gasoline jump a dime and listen to the wails of the Middle Class. Tell the Middle Class that they do not have an absolute right to a new car every three or four years: You'll be lucky if you don't get your eyes clawed out.  

 

I do not stand above the fray in this matter. I'm as guilty as the next guy. 

 

One example: 

 

A few years ago, I had a friend who was a church elder. His church had received a call from a Phoenix woman who said she was in dire need, so we packed up a box from the church's food pantry and drove over to a particularly blighted part of the city, to the run-down hotel where the woman was living. 

 

The woman was in her early 60s. She had been living in this hovel with her brother, who had died suddenly. The woman didn't have a job; her brother had provided their only income. 

 

She thanked us for the food and asked if we knew how she could get a job. She didn't have a car, she said, so she had walked a few blocks to a McDonald's restaurant and applied there. With only a grade-school education, and considering her age, she was not optimistic. 

 

At the end of her story, we joined hands with the woman and prayed. My friend prayed that the woman would get the job at McDonald's so she would be able to pay the rent for that dingy little hotel room. 

 

I thought it was a good prayer, entirely appropriate. 

 

Then I thought of the things I had been praying for.  

 

When I was sent to prison, I lost all the trappings of my comfortable Middle-Class life. After serving my time, I began to think: "OK. I've paid my debt to society. When do I get my stuff back?'" 

 

"Getting my stuff back" was the object of my personal prayers. I prayed for a lot of things. I never prayed for a job at McDonald's, though. 

 

I have often wondered since: Why did I feel I was entitled to a greater measure of providence than that poor woman? 

 

This is not meant to be an indictment of the Middle Class. It truly does possess all the virtues. Yet the Middle Class can be just as self-absorbed and selfish as any other group. It is almost always more self-righteous. 

 

It's something to think about when the word "entitlement" forms as a snarl on your lips.

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.