Tipping Point: Chicago's middle-class feels painful squeeze - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Tipping Point: Chicago's middle-class feels painful squeeze

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Since the 1950s, Americans have been told that if you play by the rules, work hard, and get a good education or skill, you, too can enjoy the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle.

That's what Jim Koch used to believe.

"I figured everything would be sitting pretty, but as soon as the economy dropped, that all went out the window," Koch says.

Koch, a union electrician, hasn't worked for two years.

He and his wife Carol live in a nice middle-class home in Lockport, where they're raising 13-year-old twins.

Carol is working part-time to bring in some income, but their savings are dwindling quickly.

"My mom was widowed when I was seven, so she raised four of us kids then by herself," Carol explains. "And seeing what she went through, I thought geez, I never want that to happen for my kids. I just want them to have things and it's just so hard."

Economists call it the middle-class squeeze.

DePaul Economist Tom Mondschean says globalization is one of the biggest reasons for the squeeze.

"It's shrinking. It's harder to-- the good paying jobs that existed in a previous generation are gradually going away," Mondschean says. "The rest of the world has gotten much better at competing with us. They have good educational systems. They have well trained people that are willing to take jobs for half of the salaries that we are used to earning here in the states. And that's a problem."

But, it's not affecting Americans equally. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households making more than $186,000 saw their share of income climb by 5 percent in 2011, while those making between $20,000 and $101,000 saw their income drop by 1.5 percent.

In the Chicago region it's even more dramatic. The average middle income worker making $44,000 a year in 2000, was only making $40,000 ten years later. While at the same time the costs for health, housing and education have soared dramatically.

Stefanie Williams and Kara Kimble Williams are a married couple living with their four children in south suburban Sauk Village. They have a household income of $103,000, yet are living paycheck to paycheck.

Stefanie has a master's degree and teaches math at a charter school. Kara is an IT specialist. Despite that 6-figure combined income, they say they're barely scraping by.

"By the time we pay for kids clothing, some food, maybe a fun activity here and there, we're tapped out," Kara explains.

"I remember once telling my mom, I messed up. I went to college. I got a master's degree. For what?" Stefanie says. "It's almost like you're living but you really aren't living because all you're doing is paycheck to paycheck."

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