I'm sick to death of hearing about Joe the Plumber, the guy who has become the cause de célèbre for Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party. He's become the symbol, for them, of the typical white man living in Middle America with a car and 2.2 kids.
Look Joe, your 15 minutes of fame are up, now it's time to talk about Shaniqua the Hairdresser.
She's middle class too. Shaniqua has a child, her own small salon, and student loans she's struggling to pay off. Shaniqua also has an SUV she bought before gas prices exploded and a home she purchased with her boyfriend before she had to put him out. Now sistah-girl is having to rob Peter to pay Paul just to keep up on the mortgage payments and other bills.
Back in the day, doing hair was considered a recession-proof business. Not anymore!
Because of the rising cost of food, gas, heat and electricity, Shaniqua is now having to buy boxed-perms to use on her clients' hair; well, for the clients who haven't resorted to doing their own perms at homes. Hey, they've got to save money too.
Instead of making money off of more profitable relaxers, Shaniqua is stuck doing less profitable wash-and-sets. Plus, with all the people who want to sport natural styles today, what's a sister to do?
I'm only half joking about Shaniqua, but I bet most of you, like me, can relate to Shaniqua a hell of a lot better than you can Joe Six-pack or whatever his name is this week.
The real facts behind Shaniqua reflect much of our own stories.
Many of our parents made sure we got an education so that we could either land good jobs or start our own businesses. Some of our parents weren't even able to save for their own retirement because they chose, instead, to help pay toward our education. Now we're having to help take care of them.
The black middle class in America is in trouble, more so than our white counter-parts actually.
The black middle class is in fact, disappearing, according to most experts. You see few of us have been able to replace the black dry-cleaners and grocery store owners that used to populate our neighborhoods. All we really have left are the hair dressers, funeral home directors, and the occasional restaurant owner. Now, even they are on the endangered list.
Contributing to our demise are incomes that have become stagnant over the years and manufacturing jobs that our parents held, but are now moving to other countries.
Sure, today's middle class African Americans have bigger houses than our parents and even have nicer cars. But let's be honest, we don't really own that stuff, the banks do. Plus, those big ticket items are more expensive and far out-strip the amount of money we earn each month.
Statistics paint a mixed picture. While blacks as a group still have lower incomes than white Americans, a report released last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that median incomes have risen over the past 30 years for black Americans, from $27,100 annually between 1967 and 1971 to just $35,010 today.
Whites earn an average of $60,000 today versus $50,262 in the early 1970s, the report shows. Incomes for blacks haven't kept quite pace, the report states, largely due to declining income and employment of black men and depressed marriage rates among black Americans.
I wrote about the disappearing black middle class a few weeks ago. Maybe after you finish laughing at Joe the Clown... I mean Plumber, you will take time to check it out.
*Disclosure: The woman in the picture above is not Shaniqua. Both the name and Shaniqua's story are made up, just like much of what we originally heard about Joe the Plumber.*