Ireland's squeezed middle

Sat, Feb 4, 2012, 00:00

 THE “SQUEEZED MIDDLE” describes one of the most pronounced social and economic trends of 21st-century life in the developed world. It refers to the section of society regarded in cold economic terms as people particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty. It consists principally of those on low and middle incomes.

The term was chosen by the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary  as the phrase that best summed up 2011. Most people instinctively know what it is. The description is not the product of a class-based view of the world but has become reality for a large majority within almost every member state of the EU.

Starting today, a major series in The Irish Times explores how the squeezed middle has struck at the heart of Ireland and examines its impact elsewhere. Some international observers believe Ireland has turned a corner on the road of austerity, but that doesn’t ease its impact on those still wrestling with unrelenting pressures.

The series looks at the lives of middle-earners and how their fate and that of the State are inextricably linked. It includes personal accounts of the recession’s stark effects, and features some of the tens of thousands of Irish people who face almost impossible levels of negative equity or stubbornly high debt. This economic hardship is compounded by increases in the cost of, most notably, energy, health, education and insurance.

The social impact is no less significant. Individuals and families have been forced into a revision of values and dramatic changes in how they spend money, look after their health, educate their families and use their leisure time.

Our Ireland’s Squeezed Middle series is not another piece of doomsday journalism. It highlights how some are beginning to find a way forward; how, for others, coping might be possible with the right blend of Government support. The series outlines practical measures that could be described as recession survival skills. It is underpinned by critical economic and social analysis.

There are opportunities for our readers to engage in conversations on this series and its implications, through The Irish Timesand irishtimes.com.

For the Government, this series highlights how people are unable to spend money, which is so crucial to economic growth. Most Irish people in this category now lack the purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking further into debt - and the growth of this group has led to an inequality that needs to be addressed.

A new beginning - and ultimately a new Republic where all sections of society can flourish - will be achieved only by confronting many of the issues that affect Ireland’s squeezed middle.

You can comment on this series below.

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