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Examiner
  • Philip Maddocks: Captive breeding may be last hope for dwindling middle class

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  • The middle class, the competent, mostly unionized working mammals once thought to be the backbone of the nation’s economy, may soon go the way of dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, and the Loehmann’s stores unless their only known predators, the wealthiest 1 percent, become their active protectors.
    In Washington, where the middle class’ plight has attracted considerable political attention, if not much of a solution, annual mortality among this class of once prevalent workers now greatly overwhelms their reproductive ability to replace their losses. Last year at least 123,000 middle-class jobs died there and only 60 to 80 babies were born to the survivors of that socioeconomic group, raising concerns that this once proud species may be beyond rescue.
    Some experts believe that breeding the middle class in captive colonies, where births do exceed deaths and mortgages don’t exceed 30 percent of their income, may be the only hope for the class’ salvation
    Ruth Smithson, a veterinary student at the University of Florida in Gainesville who once trained killer whales, said, ‘’The middle class captives are reproducing in captivity there better than we’d ever thought possible.’’
    Until last year, when a couple from Buffalo, N.Y. – Jack and Mary Clarke, a refrigerator repairman and an executive secretary - produced Kyle at the Miami facility, it was thought the middle class would not breed in captivity at all.
    But even here, breeding efforts are hampered by the meager knowledge of the habits, desires and ambitions of a creature that has inhabited the earth for more than a century. Recent studies call into question many of the ‘’facts’’ long thought to be known about the middle class, especially regarding its dietary habits, which are not satisfied, as once believed, by anything with artificial cheese flavoring.
    Reproductive success in the captive colonies seems to have followed an improvement in diet, which once consisted almost solely of Hamburger and Tuna Helper and iceberg lettuce. Captives are now given a variety of vegetation as well as vitamin and mineral supplements, which has improved health but has led to class confusion among some who are spending less time reproducing and more time worrying about how they will get their children into exclusive preschools and get their homes appointed with double-oven ranges and Café line refrigerators.
    Dr. Paul McNamara, a reproductive biologist at the University of Florida, said the reaction is understandable given that the middle class’ closest living relative is the wealthy. Having devolved from the landed gentry, the middle class still bears vestiges of its terrestrial origins of privilege and entitlement, he said.
    According to Dr. Thomas M. Richards, a Florida veterinarian and naturalist who has done many hikes in search of the middle class, its dental structure and sexual behavior closely resemble that of the upper class. But in place of trust funds, the middle class has college debt and opportunity, which it uses to chase the American dream. The middle class, Dr. Richards points out, has had to learn to live for long periods in uncertainty.
    Page 2 of 2 - That survival effort has taken its toll. There are now only four species left of its once populous family. What was once the largest of them, the unionized high school graduate, has been all but obliterated just half a century after its discovery by hungry large business owners and predatory investors.
    Today, the what remains of the defenseless American middle class is being destroyed primarily by a burdensome and inequitable money-lending system, the erosion of workplace protections and benefits, overseas outsourcing of jobs, and perhaps even the herbicides used to clear Florida waterways of the aquatic weeds.
    According to Ms. Smithson, middle class workers are ‘’in the way’’ of people trying to turn the entire nation into a residential and resort paradise for its wealthiest.
    Yet, Dr. McNamara believes co-existence might be possible if more people were aware of the middle class’ fragility and respected its turf. Such simple measures as keeping opulent dwellings and Nordstrom stores out of areas where the middle class congregates could greatly reduce the rate at which it is dying out, he said.
    Not everyone, however, is bullish on the idea of saving the middle class through captive breeding.
    “I’d be happier about captive breeding if I thought it helped middle class workers in the wild,” said Hunter Carlson, president of Ad Hoc, a nonprofit group that works on global efforts for the middle class.
    “Free of threats, they breed like rabbits in the wild,” he said. “They don’t need super costly assisted reproduction. They just need a new name.”
    Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.

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