Tougher times for the middle class

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am


Young activists protest against the market dominance of tycoons and their big corporations. Protesters sing songs about how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But the real picture may be more complicated in Hong Kong.

Government figures obtained by the Post show that both the rich and the poor fare better today than five years ago. It's the middle class and their slightly poorer cousins, the so-called sandwiched class, who aren't doing so well.

The highest and the lowest earners both had increases of more than a sixth, but incomes in the middle rose a little more than half that.

Our place in the Gini coefficient - an international index that measures inequality - is the highest in the world. But focus on the wealth gap between the richest and the poorest may be hiding a phenomenon that demands our collective attention.

The middle and sandwiched classes are getting a raw deal. That's the perception, at least, among many people. Many feel left out by the welfare system, and left behind by the sky-high property market. More of them are getting angrier.

And no wonder. For maintaining a supposedly pure capitalist economy, our government actually provides a high level of social safety and support for poor families. And, of course, our officials are scared of powerful business interests, if not beholden to them.

So it is the middle class, traditionally the least political and most stable group, that increasingly feels neglected and unloved.

There is evidence that a strong and expanding middle class makes for a more equal, stable, prosperous and even happier society. It's time we showed them more loving care.