Are You Still a Member of the Middle Class?

After the recession that has left 12.8 million still unemployed, are you still a member of the middle class?

The Lost Decade of the Middle Class is the title of a just-issued report from the Pew Research Center and it is a sobering read. Over the past forty years, the American middle class shrank from 61 percent of adults in 1971 to 51 percent in 2011.

1,287 adults who identified themselves as middle class were surveyed and here’s the results as noted in a press release:

Fully 85% of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. Of those who feel this way, 62% say “a lot” of the blame lies with Congress, while 54% say the same about banks and financial institutions, 47% about large corporations, 44% about the Bush administration, 39% about foreign competition and 34% about the Obama administration. Just 8% blame the middle class itself a lot.

That is, Congress, banks, corporations, the Bush administration and competition from the likes of Asia and elsewhere are perceived as the cause of the middle class’s reduced circumstances.

The report’s data make such too clear: median household income fell from $72,956 in 2000 to $69,487 in 2010. During the recession, median net worth has dropped alarmingly, from $152,950 in 2000 to $93,150 in 2010.

Moreover, upper income class households now hold a greater proportion of income. In 1970, the middle class held 62 percent of income in the U.S. and the upper income class, 29 percent. As NPR points out, “those numbers have now flipped,” with the middle class now holding only 45 percent and the upper income class 46 percent.

Many of those surveyed said that maintaining their standard of living has become a struggle, with 85 percent saying it is now harder to do so than a decade ago. Also, while 51 percent said in 2007 that their children would have a higher standard of living than them, only 43 percent think that will be the case now. 26 percent now think their children’s standard of living will be worse; four years ago, 19 percent did.

With the economy the central issue of this year’s presidential election, Bloomberg nonetheless notes that the middle class are “reluctant” to blame President Obama. 52 percent said his policies would aid the middle class while 42 percent said that Romney’s would.

With an estimated net worth of $250 million, Romney is seen as being out of touch with the needs of the middle class. 62 percent of the survey’s respondents say that Republicans favor the rich. 37 percent said Democrats were more likely to support their interests while only 26 percent said such of the Republicans.

“Falling behind, moving ahead” and “muted hope”: such terms pervade the report.  Says Paul Taylor, the Pew Center’s executive director and editor of the report, in Bloomberg:

“We think of ourselves and pride ourselves as being a middle-class society. But there’s a sense that the middle class is getting smaller. It’s hollowing out.”

Are you better off than you were a decade ago? Four years ago?

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Photo by Jerome T


Suzy D.
Reverend Suzy D5 years ago

It`s interesting to see how Americans define their class based only on their income. Here in the UK an individuals class is based also on education and family background. If you were born into a middle class environment, or have worked up to the middle class through education and employment then you will remain middle class even if you lose everything.

It is also not unknown for members of the upper class to lose everything after having to sell their stately homes due to changing socio-economic circumstances. Despite living on reduced means they will remain members of the upper class.

Jamie B.
Marijo B5 years ago

My income has fallen by at least 60% in the last 20 years, largely due to jobs going offshore during the Bush administration, as well as "employee" jobs converting to low-paying "contractor" positions, so-called "self-employed" where we pay double taxes and get zero benefits while somebody else profits from our labor. We are drowning in debt. I applied for bankruptcy but didn't qualify due to the amount of equity in my property. I also can't qualify for debt relief because I have always paid on time and have good credit. I can't get a refinance or debt consolidation because I am "self-employed" and don't make enough money. The debt counselor told me my only real option was to sell the house we built, which is not even worth the $ it cost to build it in 2008, which I attempted to do but nobody would buy it (one person wanted to but could not get a loan because the banks are not lending). I ended up using my meager ROTH IRA to pay off most of my debt but now it is reaccumulating. I honestly don't know what we are going to do. I own a yoga studio but all my students are broke and cannot afford classes. I have 3 other part-time "jobs" (contracts), none of which generates a steady income. I have a Master's degree and cannot find any decent work.

Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

I've been in freaking poverty. Thing is, when republicans host 2 unfunded wars, and then give breaks to the corporations w/o funding it, we go into debt. Then when a democrat gets in, and the crap hits the wall, they want to point at him, rather than take responsibility.

Yet here they allow all of these jobs to be shipped out of town, and we are held responsible for the paycheck that left us in the cold... WTF?

Jamie B.
Jamie B5 years ago

Wow, and here I thought I was middle class, until I read this. The median income fell to still more than I make in a year? I must be poor! Sadly, I work 50-60 hours a week and still can't compete with the people across the street. They pay more for rent than I do (200.00 to 250.00 more). They drive newer cars with big fancy wheels. They buy 'name brand' groceries, (I buy store brand or generic). And they get to have new 'toys' all the time (TV's, computers, ridiculously loud car stereos, etc.). Not to mention, they get to sit at home all day and not go to work because they get a check from the government. How does that happen?

Tim Ra
Tim Ra5 years ago

@Storek ~ "Facts to liberals is like holy water or garlic to vampires"

Facts to Republicans is like holy water or garlic to vampires.

*fixed* =)

Storek Sc
Storek Sc5 years ago


You can make jokes at me but the facts do not lie. Facts to liberals is like holy water or garlic to vampires...


Amanda M.
Amanda M5 years ago

Kathryn F, you got the right definition, but the wrong term-it's actually "Stockholm syndrome" that you're thinking of.

According to the economic scale, we're smack in the poverty zone. And things are NOT improving-in fact, we're having to stretch our hard-earned pennies even further, and we're already at the point where I not-quite-jokingly say that we're pinching our pennies so hard that Lincoln screams! My husband just had to take a pay cut at his job (all the guards got hit with it due to "cutbacks because of the global economy), and he was already only making $9.50 an hour! Now it's closer to $9 an hour, and he is NOT happy. He's also going to school for his last year of HVAC training and struggling to find a job in that field, which is a little hard since everybody's looking for someone with a Journeyman's license and he's only just gotten his apprentice license last year!

The only thing that's making me breathe easier is the fact that both kids are now in school and I can start working towards launching a website for selling my handmade jewelry. At least that's something I can do from home!

Robert H.
Robert Hamm5 years ago

Until we can bring jobs back from 3rd world counties who will work for 10 dollars WEEK, we will see no improvement in the middle class. In fact it will get worse and worse. Obama didn't cause that. And without major changes in the congress we won't see any improvement. Obama isn't a king. Nor is he a socialist.

Randi Levin
Randi Levin5 years ago

USed to be but the cost of insurance has caused me to go into lower income--poverty standards. $5300 a year just for 1 adult is a bit steep---especially since I haven't been to a dr. in 20 months---you would think that the ins. would have gone down---nope it went up as it does every renewal sessions for the past 12 years---or since the GOP ran this country into a deep deep hole!

kathryn f.

Storek, please take your meds and stay out of the conversation. Do you suffer from Helsinki syndrome? (I use the term loosely, but you get that its basically when victims defend their oppressors.)