Monday, June 15, 2009

Middle Forces: An Endangered Species?

It reads like a grade school report rather than a serious bit of news from a government bureaucrat! NSCB Secretary General Virola, in an article peppered with exclamation points, cheerfully announces the Filipino Middle Class is shrinking!

Maybe he thinks to soften the blow by at least producing an entertaining read?

Using the 2006 Family Income and Expenditures Survey as a baseline, the NSCB now estimates a family needs to earn close to half a million pesos to be considered middle class. This figure is double that needed by a family only three years ago, at P246,109 minimum.

Disaggregating families by income groups, the Filipino middle class has steadily shrunk from 23 percent of the population in 1997 to 19.1 percent in 2006.

So, those of us who fall under this income-category are an endangered species. Where have all the middle class gone? It may have been true that some have opted to leave the country to find their fortunes elsewhere. The upward social mobility afforded by emigration, however, seems to have declined in recent years. In 2000 and 2003, more than half of families with OFWs belonged to the middle class. In 2006, only ten percent of families with migrant workers belong to this income group.

Is it logical to assume that many of those who have left the country to work in low-skill jobs overseas belong to low-income groups, and even then they are not able to send enough home to net their families an income of at least a quarter of a million (in 2006). Owing to the global economic downturn, will they be able to send almost half a million this year?

Well, what about those that belonged to the middle-income group who have not left the country? Have they moved up the 0.1 percent richest or have they joined the bottom-dwelling 80.1 percent?

As we ponder the socio-economic groups, let us also consider the socio-political ramifications. The so-called Middle Forces have traditionally been a hegemonic (read legitimate) bloc preventing outright bloodshed between competing political elites (and by proxy economic ones as well) during periods of crisis. Whether the Middle Forces can be seen as truly progressive or merely function as a ‘safety-valve’ to decrease political tension, as evidenced by the two EDSAs, is of course debatable.

But now that our ranks have shrunk vis-à-vis the rest of Philippine society, we may ask ourselves, who will take up the cudgel, either as a truly progressive movement or at least a safety-valve, for when the next political crisis hits?

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