UPPER-MIDDLE-CLASS WOES Besieged by long hours at work and rising stress at home, the comfortable life is no more.
By Joseph Spiers REPORTER ASSOCIATE Lenore Schiff

(FORTUNE Magazine) – RAY DETTLOFF wakes up several hours before dawn in his three-bedroom home in fashionable Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He is at work by 5 A.M., programming and operating a computerized lathe, a job that consumes 55 to 60 hours of his week. Ray's wife, Karen, gets to sleep a bit later before feeding their three children and heading for the office, where she works 50 or more hours a week as a stockbroker. Hectic but happy? Not quite. What characterizes such folks are lack of time, financial worries, and lots of stress. They are far from unique: It's the new look of much of the upper middle class. People like the Dettloffs enjoy family incomes over $100,000, a claim that only five percent of American households can make. But incomes like that no longer guarantee comfortable lives -- and not just because inflation has corroded a six-figure income. Financially, a large part of the upper middle class is cash poor and under pressure. They're facing jumbo mortgages and college tuition bills, and trying to save for lengthy and costly retirements. To do all that, primary breadwinners in this envied class routinely put in 50- to 70-hour weeks. Both spouses often work, which adds more stress, and that can mean spending from $500 to $1,500 a month for child care. The costs of leaving children to third-party care are not just financial. Many hours away from dad and mom can cause kids to feel neglected, harming school performance. The long hours spent at work can strain marriages too, as partners devote so much energy to work that they neglect the relationship. Even worse, they no longer feel in control of their economic future. Corporate restructuring can sweep away their paychecks at any time; technology is changing markets so fast that no livelihood is guaranteed. Stress is way up, says psychiatrist David Trachtenberg of Bethesda, Maryland. ''It threatens people's sense of self-worth and mastery, leading to depression, loss of energy, loss of focus, disinterest in sex.'' Daniel Yankelovich, a pioneer in tracking social trends, says America has entered a stage in which affluence is no longer taken for granted, a stage of lowered expectations, especially for people in the higher brackets. Columbia University anthropologist Katherine Newman, whose recent book, Declining Fortunes, studies the middle class in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, says many affluent Americans ''feel like they're pushing a rock up a hill.'' While Nineties managers and professionals still count themselves part of the achieving class, they lack optimism. Their parents were part of an economic movement in which everyone's fortunes seemed to be on the rise. But yesterday's up escalator has turned into a horizontal people mover, where the riders keep falling off. Over 300,000 professional and managerial jobs have disappeared during the past three years. That loss is reflected in a new Census Bureau report showing that the average income of households earning over $100,000 declined 7% between 1989 and 1992, after adjusting for inflation. Chris Sullivan, 40, a health care consultant who lives near Nashville and whose wife, Terri, works part-time, has the income to qualify for upper- ^ middle-class status, but there is a nagging sense of slippage. Says he: ''I feel middle class because we live from paycheck to paycheck.'' Says Dan Merrill, 48, in Elk Grove, California: ''My family lives in a big house and doesn't want for anything.'' But he worries that his six-figure income as general manager for a building-products company could go down just as well as up in the future because of a difficult business climate. Even now, says Merrill, ''I seem to be out of money all the time.'' What keeps the available cash scarce despite healthy incomes is an ever- increasing list of necessities to accommodate modern lifestyles (see table). Even though gross income tends to rise through middle age, demographer Thomas Exter of Ithaca, New York, calculates that in today's world, income after taxes and essentials like food -- what economists call discretionary income -- stays flat until beyond age 55. Housing, college, and retirement saving sop up a lot. But some things that once were deemed luxuries have become necessities. Dissatisfied with the public schools, Harvey Waxman, 45, a psychologist in Waban, Massachusetts, sends his 11- and 14-year-old children to a private school where tuition is more than what it cost him to attend Princeton in the 1960s. Many upper-middle-class families live in expensive parts of the country, where they just can't afford an upscale lifestyle. Michael Frierson, 37, a medical equipment salesman, paid half a million dollars for his 2,800-square- foot home in Los Angeles. The purchase was far from extravagant. Runzheimer International, a relocation consulting firm, says an average executive's four- bedroom house in the Los Angeles area typically goes for $600,000. Similar challenges face people living on America's other coast. ''In New York you've got a big nut to meet even before you eat a tuna fish sandwich,'' complains a local financial planner. Cynthia Woodie, 36, and husband Marcus Tullis, 40, live in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, run their own businesses, and earn a joint income of $155,000. ''We're struggling,'' says Cynthia. ''We're often late on the rent.'' Marcus is an advertising photographer, and Cynthia creates prototype models of toys based on manufacturers' designs. Nearly $40,000 of their income goes to taxes. Rent on their three-bedroom apartment eats up $2,400 a month, and utilities consume $140. As city dwellers, they pay $125 a month to garage their car. Those are just the basics. The couple's full-time baby sitter for ) 3-year-old Spencer is $325 a week plus overtime. Since they want to spend as much time as possible with their child, they also pay $60 a week for one day of housekeeping. In a couple of years they will send their son to either the troubled public school across the street or the local private school, which costs $9,500 a year. Says Marcus: ''We used to go out almost every night, but that's all changed because of the child and lack of money.'' Operating a small business, as many high-income Americans do, puts yet more pressure on the Woodie-Tullises. Says Cynthia: ''Many times we've thought all this juggling was too much. We have to give each other pep talks a lot.'' At least she's got her hours down from 60-plus a week to 40 by hiring extra people. All in all, Cynthia doesn't think she's living better than her parents, who had the nice house in the suburbs and lots of time to enjoy it. What's more, ''one parent back then could support a family, and now it takes two.'' Parents also worry about the future their children may face. Jim Sever, 50, and wife Caroline, 48, feel secure in their managerial jobs with the state of New York in Albany. But even though daughter Amy, 19, is at topnotch Sarah Lawrence College and they are saving for 9-year-old Danny's education, they are not optimistic about the children's career possibilities: ''There is little mobility for younger people,'' Jim says. ''My parents had the expectation of a continuing rise in prosperity. I don't think we have that anymore. I see a lot of young, well-educated people in fairly low-level jobs, and maybe my kids could fall into that.'' Harvey Waxman, the Boston-area psychologist, says he's not confident his kids will live as well as he does either: ''It looks to me like the professions are shot -- the health care plan will make it harder to be a doctor, law firms are downsizing. It will require faster footwork, maybe six to ten job changes to find the right niche.'' Waxman and others in the health care system are equally worried about their own ability to prosper. ''People in my profession are in a panic. We don't know where psychology will end up in the health package,'' he says. Those fears are even greater for Edward Sheehan, a chiropractor on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He faces a drop in his six-figure income because, as now envisioned, the health plan would require patients to get a doctor's approval to see a chiropractor, which doctors may be unlikely to give. ''Two or three years from now I'll be lucky to be treading water,'' says Sheehan. ''It could conceivably warrant a career change for me.'' Middle managers face their own job-related problems. A survey by the American Management Association reveals that some 40% of firms plan to eliminate more middle- and upper-level jobs through mid-1994. That riles some people but not others. ''Everyone realizes corporations don't provide lifetime employment anymore,'' notes Roy Drake, a Ford Motor manager. MEMBERS of high-income households also work far more hours per week than comparable families a generation ago and much more than families further down the income scale. As Manhattan CPA Sam Nole observes of the many commuters he sees catching the 10 P.M. train home: ''These people live off their salaries -- they've got little or nothing to fall back on. The only capital they've got is sweat equity.'' Some of that sweat belongs to William Matt, 33, who logs 60 to 70 hours a week as financial director at a major consumer products company. Says he: ''The job market has gotten increasingly competitive, and if you want to move forward you have to keep up with the demanding pace of your peers.'' The layers of guilt from all the hours away from home are already thick. Daniel Yankelovich says survey after survey shows that a main cause of anxiety is that parents feel they are not devoting enough time to their kids. Demographer Cheryl Russell writes in her recent book, The Master Trend, that the proportion of working women who would rather stay home climbed to 53% in 1992 from 43% in 1985, a dramatic reversal of the move toward more involvement in work that started in the early 1970s. Citing a 1991 study, she says half of working mothers and 40% of fathers have considered cutting back to create more family time, but notes that today's financial realities make that wishful thinking. BOTH HUSBAND and wife bring home paychecks in some three-quarters of households with incomes over $100,000. Were it not for wives' earnings, many upper-middle-class families would slip out of that class. The rising importance of women's paychecks makes the arrival of children especially challenging. Lori Evenstad, who works up to 58 hours a week at her computer sales job in Minneapolis and also has a seven-hour job Sunday evenings, is the married mother of 1 1/2-year-old Mike, who goes to day care. Says Lori: ''I'm concerned about being a loving, supportive parent and still keeping up with my job. Either I quit work so I can grow along with my child, and we have less money, or I'll keep going at the same pace, and way after it's too late I'll feel guilty.'' She wants to cut back on her hours, maybe starting a small business, which she thinks will allow her more flexibility. But not now. Between work and children, there is not much slack in increasingly tight schedules. ''There's little time for things you'd take for granted, like a leisurely day at the beach. Even seeing a movie takes a lot of planning,'' says Ed Sheehan, the Cape Cod chiropractor. Quips William Matt, the financial director: ''Forgetting to buy the milk when you're shopping can just wreak havoc on the schedule.'' His wife, Natalie, says that ''feeling stretched in terms of time and energy is the one thing we are least happy about.'' The lack of down time is taking a heavy toll on relationships. ''I've seen a tremendous number of divorces among young professionals because one or both are working so hard they're not taking time to smell the flowers,'' says Stanley L. Goodman, an attorney and CPA in White Plains, New York, who specializes in determining asset values in divorce cases. Strain on a marriage can also come from children who feel they aren't receiving enough attention, says Yale psychiatrist Kyle D. Pruett. They'll try to get attention by doing poorly at school, fighting excessively with siblings, or stealing things in the house. Says Pruett: ''They're saying, 'I feel like you've forgotten who I am.' '' Not only do upper-middle-class folks play less, they also tend to spend less than they once did. Trudy and Kip Kerlin of Tennessee recently went out to see their first film (other than Snow White) in five years. Dan Merrill raises horses on his property, but he otherwise lives rather frugally to leave sufficient funds to pay college tuition for one daughter and save for another in high school. Until last month, Merrill had never gone on a foreign vacation -- in fact, the biggest trip that he and his wife had taken in recent years was back to the Midwest to visit parents. Chuck Cooper, 48, is president of an 85-employee medical software firm, CoMed, and lives with his wife and two children in upscale Newton, Massachusetts. Yet the furnishings in his house aren't much above those of a graduate student. Vacations are to nearby Maine and to grandparents' homes. His family owns a 1984 Toyota and a 1990 Volvo. The Volvo, he says, ''represents the peak of our conspicuous consumption.'' Instead of showing - off in BMWs, affluent people are increasingly scaling down to Honda Accords, Ford Explorers, and Plymouth Voyagers. Market research firms are picking up the same attitudes and patterns. Mona Doyle, president of the Consumer Network, which surveys more than 500 people a month, says affluent consumers ''are shopping more judiciously than five years ago, making next year's job-market uncertainty a factor in their purchasing.'' Even people who face no direct threat to their income possess a new sense of modesty, perhaps reflecting a heightened sensitivity to the casualties of the current economy. When Yankelovich Partners asked affluent Americans in 1992 whether owning an expensive car was a symbol of success, only 24% said yes, down from 39% in 1989. Those who saw designer clothes as a status symbol dropped to 10% from 25%.

VOLVO is stressing affordability because it figures its target market of middle-aged families with incomes over $80,000 has become increasingly price sensitive, says Robert Austin, director of marketing communications. Surveys showed that consumers thought a Volvo typically cost $30,000. So the company launched an advertising campaign to show that a Volvo can be bought for $22,900. That's down from $25,000 last year. What's more, says Austin, this year's version adds a passenger-side airbag, which appeals to increased concern for safety, and comes with a longer warranty, which appeals to the desire for value. Says Austin: ''Our ads say that this is not a flashy purchase but a prudent investment.'' With the big buyers tamed, consumer spending is likely to lose its zip for some time to come. Not only do these folks control 10% of national income, but they are also prime customers for computers, cars, theater tickets, and other higher-priced goods and services on which companies are betting their futures. Of course, the upper middle class may come bounding back as confident consumers once the economy perks up. But given the broad economic clout of this class, the economy may not improve much until they come back.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: FORTUNE CHART/SOURCE: RUNZHEIMER INTERNATIONAL CAPTION: WHAT IT TAKES TO BE UPPER MIDDLE CLASS AROUND THE U.S. Want a nice family home in an affluent suburb, two cars, and other upscale perks? To get all that, you'll need 35% more income in Los Angeles than in Nashville.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: NO CREDIT CAPTION: LIFE'S NEW NECESSITIES The upper-middle-class life of 30 years ago was far simpler and less expensive than today. The change is not due just to inflation. We see more things as ''must haves'' for comfortable living. Here is an informal list of some of those goods and services and what they tend to cost. CATEGORY COST