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Middle-class anxiety and what it means heading into the 2016 presidential election

The Iowa Caucuses are now less than one week away. This week, NPR’s Mara Liasson is gauging the nation’s mood. How are voters feeling about the upcoming presidential election? How are real incomes, economic mobility and government policy impacting West Michigan families? WGVU talks with area voters, the moms and dads experiencing the middle-class squeeze.

Seated on his lap, Ryan Vandermeer is teaching his 4-year old son how to read at Grand Rapids downtown library.

Vandermeer owns a property management company. He’s defines himself as a liberal member of the middle-class.

“I think the biggest concern for us right now is savings. Even as I started a business I consider successful I’ve seen my income climb I still don’t have the savings that my parents did at my age who were factory workers at Steelcase.”

He’s stilling paying off his Master’s degree.

Something girlfriend Endrea Dirheimer is free and clear.

“I never worked on a Master’s which maybe to my benefit because I don’t have any debt.”

She’s spent the first six years of her son’s life supporting the two of them on a server’s income.

“My wages went up 35…what was it…13-cents an hour? Instead of making $3.10 an hour I think it’s like $3.33 or something like that? That’s cool,” Dirheimer says with a laugh. “If it had gone up $1 an hour even I would have been like, ‘Wow, that’s great!’ because it’s $1 but 13 cents, what is that? I don’t understand? Minimum wage is $7.15 an hour, I don’t, uh-uh.”

For Ryan and Endrea their middle-class anxieties focus on a living wage and savings. Having enough put away for their sons to go to college and the two of them to retire.

“Are we going to stick to our founding principles of the Constitution or are we going to move away from that and kind of head into chaos?”

Mary Jo Haab is a mother of five.

“I consider myself a classical liberal. I’m free-market when it comes to the economy, small government, but I’m not quite so liberal on social issues.”

“Personally I’m very thankful we’re not struggling financially right now My husband is employed and has a very good job but I see a lot of families where one or both of the parents are losing jobs because the companies that they work for are feeling the squeeze from too many regulations whether it’s Obamacare, whether it’s other regulations that are put on the companies they are losing jobs, one or both are losing jobs, and that really is causing families to struggle.”

Haab is encouraged some presidential candidates are eager to lower and simplify the tax code.


Dan Ophoff is spending the afternoon with his grandson. Government spending is what keeps him awake at night.

“I consider myself a physically prudent independent.”

I ask Ophoff as physically prudent independent, what are some of his anxieties as a member of the middle-class?

“Oh, my goodness! For me at least, I’m retired and part of what I’m living on is my resources in my investments, OK. And so to the extent that the economic policies impact the monetary value of my investments I have less to live on.”

“One of the things that is probably for me is the future of my children.”

“My name is Nicholas Alexander Noble. My wife and I we are community development philanthropists as well. I do ministry and also some business on the side. It’s just really eyeing education and saying, ‘OK, what do we want to do? Do we even want to have our kids here? Homeschool kids here? Do we want to take them to Singapore and build a house and have them schooled there? Those are really some of the concerns for us because as far as our lives are concerned we’re entering into our 30s. We have our lives established and um, really for our children for the future that’s really our biggest concern.”

Three kids with one on the way.

These members of the middle-class are hopeful for their children’s futures. What would policies providing a little extra in their paychecks for education, health care and retirement make the middle-class? It’s easy to spell.


Patrick Center, WGVU New.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.