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As inflation squeezes middle-class Europe, anxiety about the future - International Herald Tribune

LES ULIS, France: When the local bakery increased the price of a baguette for the third time in six months last year, Anne-Laure Renard and Guy Talpot invested in a bread-baking machine. When gasoline became their single biggest monthly expense in January, they decided to sell one of their two cars.

Now, as everything from baby milk to chocolate desserts drives up their living costs, Renard, a teacher, and Talpot, a mailman, are planning their most radical lifestyle change yet: They are getting married to reduce their tax bill.

"I never thought I would be in this position, counting every cent," Renard said one recent evening as her companion measured milk powder for their 13-month-old son, Vincent, in the kitchen. "I mean, I am a teacher. If I can't get by, how do others manage?"

They are not poor, but they are peeved.

Across Europe, people in the middle layer of the labor force - from office workers, civil servants and skilled laborers to low-level managers - are coping with a growing sense that they are being pushed to the margins like never before, as a combination of rising costs and stagnant wages erodes their purchasing power.

by Fran on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 12:15:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they decided to sell one of their two cars.

Hooray.

Now, what about those below the middle-class?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 04:35:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed, having two cars when the main salary is just a teacher (they are paid pretty low wages) is calling for trouble, so there is some caricature in the example.

Now I agree that the problems must be more acute for those below middle class. Having said that, if you must be low income class, France is not the worst place in the world to be so (although UMP is trying to make strides in that direction).

Anyway, cars are a very real trap for a lot of people. It is a pit of spending (all the more so because it is a universal symbol of status, and people tend to buy a much more expensive one thant they need). Cutting on that expense allows a huge improvement in financial flexibility. Still, many unrich people are obsessed about them and will sooner stop using hot water than their car.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 05:44:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, teachers and postmen are very quickly moving down the economic ladder ;  teachers are paid wages that don't really make one able to maintain a middle class lifestyle. And nothing proves their two cars were in themselves expensive ; they could have bought second hand old small cars at a couple thousand euros...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 06:21:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"they could have bought second hand old small cars at a couple thousand euros... "

Well, those are the upfront costs. But a car is expensive without them: insurance, parking, petrol, repairs. And those last two marginal costs are worse for a second hand car than for a new one (although small is always better indeed).

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 07:26:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And these are the costs that force them to sell their second one ; having two cars in itself is not a mark of wealth, was my point. There are plenty of poorer-than-middle-class people able to own a car per adult - more so in the countryside than in urban settings.

In les Ulis, this couple is possibly renting an apartment, maybe even social housing, and that Parisian suburb doesn't have great transportation - cars are quite useful.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 07:54:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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