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Middle Class Struggling Every Day But Somehow Manage

By Rayhan Ahmed Topader
29th-Jul-2020       
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The Covid-19 crisis has rightly made saving lives a top priority. In the process, the economy is collapsing. As people stop traveling, going to restaurants, and shopping, and as businesses see their sales plummet, the economy will almost surely take a deep dive. Vulnerable groups, such as the homeless and the poor, will be made even more vulnerable, and the broader middle class will feel the pain as well. Not since the 1930s has the middle class faced such a serious economic threat. Not only is our health care system ill-prepared for what is coming, but our debt is too high, our infrastructure crumbling, our safety net fragile, and our middle class poorly positioned to weather the storm. Because of an inadequately prepared health care system, the authorities are trying to "flatten the curve" of infection rates. But that unfortunately may prolong the economic distress. It is not just the socially poor and the migrant workers who are facing the brunt of coronavirus induced lockdown. Activists say lower middle class families with meager income are badly hit too.
The ongoing lockdown, which has crippled the economy for more than a month and sparked unprecedented distress, has turned the so-called lower middle class into the new poor identities of the society. Teachers in unaided private schools, office assistants, data entry operators, salespersons, receptionists, beauticians, those who run small mobile phone service and repair shops and other service providers who fall in 5,000 to 15,000 monthly income group, are the badly hit. Most of them have not received the salaries for two months and they hardly have any savings to fall upon. Many of them fear job loss post-lockdown. It is not just the socially poor and the migrant workers who are facing the brunt of coronavirus induced lockdown. Experts say lower middle class families with meager income are badly hit but the problem is not getting due attention because of lopsided priorities. The catastrophic effect of Covid-19 has created an unprecedented challenge for all countries across the globe. It has not only created problems relating to public health but has also crippled much of the countries' economics. Therefore, the governments of different countries have been facing tremendous problem in adopting strategies to overcome the public health challenges and economic fallouts caused by this pandemic.
Continuous lockdown and the implementation of different containment strategies adopted by the government have compelled the private sector organisations to downsize their number of employees. Like many countries around the world, many private sector employees have lost jobs in Bangladesh during this unprecedented time of the century. Garment industry, which is one of the key pillars of the economy, has decided to lay-off employees on the ground that they are losing their orders from customers. Many workers have lost their jobs in the last month.
While they have lived in cities for years, they have little choice but to move into their villages sacrificing their children's better education and future. They find it difficult to adapt to the village lifestyle as they become conversant with the lifestyle of a cosmopolitan city like Dhaka. The most vulnerable group would be the children of these people who studied at various educational institutions in Dhaka. These kids would find it difficult to adapt to new schools and colleges as the quality of schools and colleges in Dhaka may be comparable to these institutions. The continuing lockdown and economic downturn have compelled these people to sustain their lives out of their savings. When they were out of pocket they were left with no choice but to move to the villages. Like the poor people, they could neither ask for support from government nor come out on the street for relief materials. There is hardly any assistance available for this group because neither the government nor any others have come forward to support them during the pandemic when they have been struggling for their survival. On the other hand, the decision of the middle-class people to return would also put the owners of the houses at risk because their incomes from house rent would get reduced which could also affect their livelihood.
The decision of these groups of people to return to their villages can create psychological stress on adults and children as they have adjusted to Dhaka city's lifestyle. They would miss the benefits of that lifestyle once they return to villages. Most importantly, the children studying in different good schools with students from cosmopolitan culture would find it difficult to adapt to the new environment at the village schools and colleges. There is a possibility that they might be mentally sick. The Covid-19 trauma and the compulsion to stay at home as a containment strategy have already made many people psychologically sick.
Hence, miseries caused by financial hardship will worsen the severity of a stressful situation. Therefore, the government should think about identifying strategies to help the middle class and lower-middle-class people during their hardship. These groups of people have grown up in such an environment that they would not come forward to explicate their miseries and ask for support either from the government or from any other organisations. They will rather prefer sacrificing lives to extending hands before others for support. Thus, helping these people in their struggle during the Covid-19 pandemic is a social responsibility for everyone including the government.
Along with the government, the owners of the public sector organisation should also come forward to help these people by keeping them in their jobs. It is true that because of the continuing stalemate situation triggered by Covid-19, the businessmen have also been struggling to make profits. Yet, laying-off workers is not a sustainable solution. Therefore, they could consider keeping these employees in jobs by reducing certain benefits. If they do this, these people would at least get some hope to sustain livelihood.
However, if handled right, the economic threat to middle class incomes and assets will be temporary and the economy will likely rebound strongly once the immediate crisis is past. Pent-up demand for goods and service will eventually create a surge of new spending, creating jobs, and higher incomes that will allow households to repair their balance sheets, repay their debts, and face a brighter economic future. Such people struggle in their lives every day but they somehow manage without seeking help from others. However, the lockdown has made it a hand to mouth existence for this class.

(Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a writer and columnist. raihan567@yahoo.com)

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