As bad as the recession and feeble recovery have been to Utah’s psyche, the biggest meltdown since the 1930s has laid bare a more sinister plight — our middle class is slipping backward.
It may be hard to see. The counties along the Wasatch Front, home to three of every four Utahns, look the same as they did during the boom years, when the stock market and housing bubble fueled the impression that most families were doing well in spite of incomes that barely budged.
In hindsight, the impression may have been an illusion. Empirical evidence and Utahns’ responses to a Salt Lake Tribune opinion poll in which most described themselves as middle class show that their financial foundations are eroding, the rich-poor gap is widening and most believe that their elected officials lack the ability to fix the economy.
According to the recent survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc:
• Utahns feel stuck in their tracks. One in three has lost ground in the past five years — a fact certified by the Census Bureau. Adjusted for inflation, median Utah household incomes fell to $58,491 in 2009 from $59,226 a decade earlier.
• Incomes have fallen in one-third of respondent households, even though two-thirds (63 percent) have at least two wage earners contributing income.
• Close to one in three of the respondents said someone in their household has lost a job in the past five years, while similar percentages of Utahns are struggling with debt or fear they won’t have enough savings to retire comfortably.
“I feel a sense of hopelessness, and I’m the most optimistic person I know,” said Marcia Timmins, a Herriman business owner whose income has fallen almost by half since 2008. “Middle-class security is long gone. People are depressed. It’s like Russia in the winter of 1916.”
BY PAUL BEEBE
AND LESLEY MITCHELL