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Hilde Walter, "The Misery of the New Mittelstand" (1929)

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An illustration of the social structure of the German people (then 54 million) presented by Gustav Schmoller in 1897 to the eighth Evangelical Social Congress in Leipzig now has the effect of an ancient fairy tale:

Aristocracy and wealthy: 0.25 million families
Upper middle class: 2.75 million families
Lower middle class: 3.75 million families
Wage Workers: 5.25 million families

At that time the most important characteristic of the lower middle class was a fundamentally secured existence, a combination of capital owned and income from work. The question of education or culture arose only as a secondary or tertiary factor and played scarcely any role in the delimitation downward, in distinction to the unsecured life of those who earn wages exclusively. How differently the living conditions of the new middle class, which is being courted from both sides, appear today! There is hardly any reliable documentation of the white-collar workers’ true income situation because there are no statistics on salaries actually paid. Other sources, however, offer clues: of the subscribers to the national insurance plan for white-collar employees, two-thirds of those insured paid premiums in income categories under 200 marks. The Institut für Konjunkturforschung [Economic Research Institute] calculated the average salaried income of white-collar employees at 159.50 marks in January 1927 and 170.96 marks in June 1927. Since the calculated average includes higher income levels as well, one can imagine that a large number of salaried employees have to get by on much less than the average wage. Of these amounts, 18.70 marks in January went for taxes and social security, 20.40 marks in June. In Berlin and other cities most people have to allow a further 10 marks per month for transportation. There remains then as an average income (still including the highest figures) 130.80 and 140.50 marks per month respectively! It is probably unnecessary to compare the purchasing power of these sums with that of 1913 to verify the dreariness of such an income level. Shrewd old capitalists are fond of telling us about the extraordinary improvement in the situation of white-collar employees thanks to the eight-hour day; in so doing they forget to mention that the enormous intensification and mechanization of white-collar work results in a doubling of the energy output required, and that no one likes to hire employees over forty years old any longer, with the possible exception of expressly confidential positions. The needs of the white-collar employees who have lost their jobs far exceed the capacities of unemployment provisions. In April 1928 official publications counted a total of 183,371 white-collar workers seeking employment; of those approximately 62,000 received insurance payments and approximately 31,500 received emergency provisions; therefore 90,000 unemployed white-collar workers were without unemployment support and, in the best of cases, received small payments from social welfare for the poor. Those receiving emergency support, that is, one-third of all those supported, had already been unemployed for over six months, and therefore in many cases drew only about one-third of their salaries for over half a year.

Thus appear the living conditions of a social stratum, which in the wishful dreams of bourgeois ideologues is destined to be the embodiment of small capitalist enterprises. It should be assumed that to those immediately involved the clear similarity of their own position with that of the proletariat would make them think and that the model of the organized worker would have to inspire imitation. Obviously this comparison has not yet taken hold among the majority of white-collar employees, for out of a total of 3,500,000 only 1,300,000 are members of professional associations of any sort; the overwhelming majority lives without relying on an organization that could represent their interests.

Source of English translation: Hilde Walter, “The Misery of the ‘New Mittelstand’,” in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 187-89. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Hilde Walter, “Die Misere des ‘neuen Mittelstands,’” Die Weltbühne 25, no. 4, (January 22, 1929), pp. 130-32.

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