“Impossible” is a word used by many people typed and/or self-categorized as middle class to describe their own lives. Writers about the middle class prefer more precipitous words: precarious, sinking, and most often falling.

I chose from that menu in titling my recent book The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History. “Sinking” pays tribute to the best of George Orwell’s writing on the middle class and implies a gradual and grinding process — and also a miserable feeling — that characterizes middle class life even before a fall. Herman Melville’s Bartleby (“Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”) sank.

The title’s “sinking” adjective works but it never fully dislodged indecision in my mind over an alternative title. The Impossible Middle Class remained a contender even as the book neared completion. Certainly the idea of “saving the middle class,” so dear to politicians across party lines and so associated with the impoverishment of U.S. political discourse since 1992, was impossible.

I remain fine with either choice of title, but do wonder if COVID 19 is about to lead us to the conclusion that middle class life, not just the posturing politics associated with its salvation, is what is impossible. Impossibility applies at the level of definition and of experience.

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