Irish middle class ‘escaped the worst’ of global downturn

The middle class here may have largely escaped the worst of the “bleak” pressures on incomes and rising debt facing their counterparts in many parts of the world, according to a major survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Its report, Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class, finds that middle-class income levels in many of the almost 40 countries it surveys have fallen since the mid-1980s and middle-income households are struggling to sustain lifestyles as the costs of housing and consumer prices rise.

The survey comes at a time of huge political change in many economies.

The election of Donald Trump as US president, as well as the rise of populism across Europe and the UK vote to leave the EU have all been attributed to the declining fortunes of the middle classes across the rich world.

The OECD paints “a bleak picture” of declining economic power and warns that joining the ranks of the middle class is more difficult and that their numbers are shrinking in many countries.

The report defines a middle-class income as a citizen earning between 75% and 200% of the median national income.

It finds that one in five middle-income households spend more than they earn, and that their prospects for secure jobs are under threat.

“The middle class is at the core of a cohesive, thriving society. We need to address their concerns regarding living costs, fairness, and uncertainty,” the OECD said.

But some of the concerns faced in many countries appear not to apply to Ireland.

The size of the middle-income class has fallen steeply since the 1980s in Sweden and Finland, as well as in Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, and the US.

“Only in France and Ireland were there sizeable expansions,” according to the report.

It finds that middle-income jobs could expand by 10% in Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, and in the UK in the coming years.

“Of the three countries where the middle-income group grew — Denmark, France, and Ireland — the upper-middle income class also grew in Denmark, but shrank in France and Ireland,” it said.

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