Berlin, Graefekiez, rund um die Graefestraße in Kreuzberg # Wie hat der Kiez sich verändert und woher kommt die Wälewanderung. Die Mittelschicht verdrangt die Unterschicht. Foto: Kai-Uwe Heinrich

They are never the focus when it comes to planned debits or credits, unless someone promises to abolish the cold progression, which then remains. They are not included when it comes to social housing because they earn too much for it, nor when it comes to inheritance tax because they have too little for it. They don’t cheat on welfare and don’t use tax havens because they’re too far from both. They do not benefit if Hartz IV is increased, nor from reduced wealth tax rates.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner called it the “working middle” when he outlined his ideas for relieving the current crisis. He used the two words in the same breath as low-income earners and gave a very short twitch, as if he suspected that he was about to say something outrageous: namely that the “working middle class” would become a case for relief measures.

The reasons for the new situation are skyrocketing energy prices, general increases in the cost of living due to inflation and this after many years of zero interest. Together, this is now also having an effect on the wallets of average earners, many of whom have to calculate a lot more than before. Politicians don’t have much relief to offer especially to them. Lindner held out the prospect of tax breaks for 2023, but the Vice-Chairman of the Greens, Britta Haßelmann, immediately warned that “people who have enough money” should not be relieved now. What does “enough” mean? Wasn’t clear from her words. But this is a crucial point.

We know redistribution from top to bottom (perceived as fairly fair) and from bottom to top (rather unfair). The redistribution from the middle up and down has no attribute, it is hardly ever discussed. But for a large part of the population it should feel the same again: that there is a lot of noise and money about the needs of those below, and that there is always an advocate for the more discreet interests of those above. And that they are the stupid number maks in the middle, whose concerns are of no further interest.

So far they have accepted it. Maybe because it was a kind of freedom from the state – bought dearly, but still. Perhaps also because the term middle class, to which they assign themselves, exudes a comfortable cosiness. But the coziness is a mirage when you look at the criteria.

A definition supported by the OECD includes those in the middle class who have between 75 and 200 percent of the median income. Not only is that little in absolute terms in euros, it is also relatively small when you consider that the poverty risk threshold is 60 percent of the median income. The distance is not a comfort zone, but a mirage. The current crisis shows that.

In addition to Lindner, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also announced relief measures that have remained unspecified. Among other things, a housing benefit reform so that in future more people than before will have access rights. Should one now hope that a part of the “working middle class” will come into this extended circle, so that at least they will get something back from the enormous compulsory taxes that chop the gross salaries of the middle class every month? Or not? Because more social benefits are not enough – and this would also damage the by no means trivial self-image that one is support and does not need support.

Who gives, who gets, what is fair? It is certainly not just up to politicians to clarify this, society also has a role to play. According to the numbers, Germany is a rich country. But the current and presumably long-term price crisis will increase the circle of those who no longer feel they are meant by it. That’s not good news either.