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Demise of the middle class — a myth taken for granted

Apr 13,2014 - Last updated at Apr 13,2014

Twenty years ago, we were told that the middle class in Jordan had all but disappeared.

Ten years later, the story was repeated; the middle class was claimed to have melted down and vanished.

During the past 10 years, we were warned every year about the complete demise of the middle class. And I am pretty sure that the same claim will be asserted time and again next year and the year after, and so on.

The meltdown of the middle class theory seems to be a nice and exciting story, one that makes the teller looks good, wise and concerned.

To start with, I disagree with what is meant by the middle class.

The definition varies widely, but the Jordanian middle class is still there and forms the majority of the society under any definition.

If by the middle class one means the group of people who earn medium income, it is known that the rich do not exceed 10 per cent of the population, and those who live below the poverty line are assumed to be around 15 per cent of the population, thus leaving around 75 per cent of the population that must be described as middle class.

If, on the other hand, the middle class means those limited-income groups whose income is salaries and wages, one still finds this category of income earners to be in the vicinity of 70 per cent.

Their share of the national income is around 45 per cent, according to the estimates in the national accounts.

This group includes all government personnel, both civilian and military, and all those working in the private sector for a monthly payment.

However, if we apply the Marxist definition of the middle class, which is to mean those who produce services, on the understanding that those who produce commodities form the working class, and the industrialists who own the factories and those who own farms form the bourgeoisie and landlords, then it has to be pointed out that services form 70 per cent of Jordan’s gross domestic product, a rough indication that the middle class, as defined by Marx, amounts to more than two thirds of the Jordanian society.

The middle class was, and still is, the backbone of the Jordanian society. It takes on its shoulders the heaviest burdens of the country’s economic, political and social efforts.

No one can deny its presence, or claim that it has melted down and disappeared, or even shrank.

It is legitimate to complain that the economic situation is very tough indeed.

It is one’s right to take exception when it comes to the standard of living, but no one can correctly claim that the middle class melted down and vanished. Such a claim is not supported by facts, figures or serious observation. It does not serve a useful purpose.

The middle class meltdown is a common myth, perhaps only equalled by the one saying that over 55 per cent of the Jordanian labour force works for government institutions.

This last claim is almost taken for granted, while it is utterly false. As a matter of fact the number of all civilians working for the government amounts to 175,000, those working for governmental establishments and corporations 100,000.

Assuming that the active military personnel amounts to 90,000, the overall number of individuals working for the government does not exceed 365,000, or less than 25 per cent of the total workforce.

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