Good Question: Who Is In The Middle Class?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to extend the payroll tax deduction, he pronounced it “a make or break moment for the middle class.” But how do we define “middle class?”

According to a New York Times poll, 92 percent of Americans consider themselves working class or middle class.

Another public opinion poll reported that 19 percent of people making more than $110,000 consider themselves “middle class.”

“The middle is a household that makes about $50,000 a year,” said Fabrizio Perri, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Minnesota economics department.

According to 2010 data from the U.S. Census bureau, the mid-point is $49,445 – half of working American households make more, half make less.

So, to get to an idea of “middle class,” let’s eliminate the richest 20 percent, households making more than $100,065. And eliminate the poorest 20 percen, those households making less than $20,000.

That leaves middle class households earning between $20,000 and $100,000 a year.

The middle class over the past 5 years has held fairly steady in terms of its median income, according to Perri. But the three groups have been improving over the past three decades at different rates.

The bottom 20 percent saw its income rise less than 20 percent. The middle, saw income climb about 40%. But the top 20 percent grew at a rate of 65 percent.

“This is the defining issue of our time,” said Obama.

His Department of Commerce prepared a report on the Middle Class in America.

The Commerce Department defines the middle class by their aspirations, writing, “income levels alone do not define the middle class.”

“Middle class families and those aspiring to be part of the middle class want economic stability, a home and a secure retirement. They want to protect their children’s health and send them to college. They also want to own cars and take family vacations,” according to the report.

But housing, college and health care costs are all rising faster than middle class income. And the types of jobs typically associated with the middle class are harder to come by, according to Perri.

“Middle class, 30 years ago used to be a worker who was not very skilled, but had a very-stable job, relatively high paying job, and those jobs have been vanishing,” said Perri.

The median income is for all households, when you look at individual circumstances, you get a different picture of that mid-point. For the 58 million family households with a married couple, the U.S. Census Bureau puts the median at $72,751. For the 40 million “nonfamily” households, the median is $29,730.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • fkafka

    Election year mathematics at work again. Go back to the tried and true – Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Well, are ya?

    • Me too

      I’m doing quite a bit better, thanks.

    • Journeyone

      What world are you living in? Most people have gone without raises if they are lucky enough to still have a job. Then there was the deal Dayton made with the Devil to stop the state from being shut down, so that sent those of us who pay property taxes thru the roof. Better off? HELLLLOOOOOO

    • Mike

      Much better! Thanks

      • callin' you out

        If you are the same Mike that posted above, I don’t believe you. Unless you’re a lady of the night setting your own price. I can believe that your house is paid off if your close to retirement. I can’t believe your investments have gone up unless your hiding in corporate paper backed bonds and fools gold.

        • Me too

          I am in the same shoes as Mike, but I have twenty years until retirement. Why is this so unbelieveable? We bought modestly and paid it off early. Now we have cash and equity for our kids college. We also have a small portfolio while it is not enought to retire on, it is holding it’s own against this market. While I do not associate with the political conservatives, financially I am and very proud of what financial discipline has done for me and my family.

          • callin' you out

            I’m glad you’re so high on yourself and your accomplishments today. A congratulations must be in order. Have you too incurred the profitable raises that Mike has? I have a large salary, a large portfolio, a large bought and paid for home, but still maintain a good sense of the little guy trying to put food on the table and make rent. Congratulatories not desired or required.

    • Mike

      Let’s see; 3.5% raise 1st year, 3.0% the 2nd, 2.5% third and 3.5% this year. House is worth less, but my savings portfolio hasn’t dropped a nickel. House is paid off. No debt what so ever. Yea, things are looking better………….

      • stubby

        Then why don’t you give a lot of it away like the occupy group would love you to do…….dam n 1% you.

        • Ummmm

          So stubby, why would we want to do that?

          And anyway, the Occupy group doesn’t want anyone to give anything away. You must have been misinformed somewhere along the way.

          Surprise, surprise.

  • riley

    well that makes me poor with what I make a year damn.. I thought i was doing well lol

  • Orrest

    20 to 100 thousand is quite a difference. The home page picture showed the suburbia cul de sac. I don’t think you can live there on 20000
    How workers 30 years agoo got well paid without education is simple, unions and trade restrictions. Got rid of one, got rid of the other. Oh look, a recession. No jobs, education so expensivee you can’t make a mistake. Send the kid off to the military, comes back STSD. wonderful world we live in now. Thanks Ronnie

    • Yeah

      That TrickleDown stuff worked real well, didn’t it.

  • Sue J

    Wow! Where are the comments from the Socialists? I’m waiting for them to tell us how we need to give them more money because they don’t have enough and don’t want to work hard. LMAO This is starting off to be a great day!

    • HaHa

      Jeepers Sue! We liberal socialist commies just love uninformed and naive comments from quasi-conservatives like you!!

      Don’t mean to hurt your feelings or anything, but comments like yours continue prove the point that you guys really don’t have much of a clue what you’re talking about.

      Though your understanding of various political and social philosophies is kinda cute, in a simplistic sort of way.

      • Orrest

        Simplistic is what the conservatives on this board are. ME ME ME. They can’t see beyond that.

    • Mike

      Enjoy your drive into work today on your socialistic roads under the protection of your socialized and unionized police force genius. Don’t forget be thankful for social neighbors that keep an eye on your house while your working, or the unionized fire department and unionized teachers in their socialistic building teaching your children today. While your working don’t forget to thank your fellow socialistic working peers for participating in your socialistic insurance plan to keep your rates lower. Have a good day Sue from a social commentator.

      • redneck purist

        I built that road, hired that cop etc…Me and my capitalist buddies. Not socialism. Socialism didn’t build this country, you dolt. But now that it’s built the socialists want the credit. Too funny. Nice try though. BTW my pay went up 20% in the last 2 years. And without union help. And don’t start with me on union school teachers. I still remember when they weren’t in the union, and students could construct a sentence and count out change. Don’t like what you see in today’s youth? Thank a union!

        • Awwww

          Don’t put too much stock in what the purist says. He might have a hard time telling you what a Socialist really was. He pretty much always speaks in sweeping generalities like this. Don’t know why, but you’d like to think it’s not because he doesn’t quite understand what he’s talking about.

        • Mike

          Being a Tea Bagging receiver really pays well I see

  • Ordinary Guy

    No one is satisfied with this stagnant economy. Something must be done, and hunkering down in a foxhole won’t help. Fighting each other won’t either. What has changed in the preceding 15 years? Good things that had unrealized side-effects.

    Grid-locked Congress has been distracted from the job and ignored the downside to our economic structure.

    Internet- Allowed computer programming in India. Jobs lost forever.
    Global Market- Turns out to be a one-way street. Jobs lost forever.
    Cheap imported consumer goods- Prices just low enough to bankrupt ours. Made totalitarian governments military and economic rivals. Our creditors.
    Imported oil- Grew enormously high and put $ in the hands of tyrants.
    Automated trading- Turns Wall Street upside-down to shear the sheep regularly.
    Easy credit- Coming from the people we buy from. Making even more money for their leaders and none for the developing world families. That’s dangerous for unrest.

  • Pat

    Middle class, 30 years ago used to be a worker who was not very skilled, but had a very-stable job, relatively high paying job, and those jobs have been vanishing,” said Perri.

    The thesis of the “vanishing job” as quoted above is a falicy, folks. Those jobs didn’t vanish. They were stolen by “job producers” on Wall Street who have been buying legislation and abandoning American workers for a generation. They got the money; we got the shaft. Don’t you get it?

    Time for a change!

  • Mark Too

    Wow, I thought I too was middle class. I came from a family that in today’s dollars was making less than $20,000. Studied hard in high school, and was rewarded with an academic scholarship. Flipping burgers wasn’t beneath me. Flipping burgers (along with the scholarship) paid for my college education. Found a young lady who did the same. Now we’re a family, that according to this article, is above the middle class. That’s nice… But I’m sure the studying in school (not partying) and working at minimum wage to get a college education had nothing to do with me getting to where I’m at today. It’s simple folks, if you want to get ahead in life today, earn it! Don’t expect someone else to give it to you!

    • Orrest

      If you went to a public college you were not paying as much of the cost as the students are today. An academic scholarship was paid for by the good graces of someone else’s money. For that effort that society gave you, what do they get back? I would guess not much.

      • Mark Too

        Studying hard while in high school afforded me the opportunity to go to either public or private college. I chose a private college.

        Yes the scholarship was paid for by the good graces of someone else. It was none the less earned, not just given to me.

        I will not top everyone, but my record on volunteering and charitable contributions has been and continues to be pretty solid. Factor in the taxes we’re paying, it’s safe to say I’m contributing to society. Your guess would be wrong.

        • Mark Too

          Sorry forgot to add . . . I’ll stand by my original post.
          If you want to get ahead in life today, earn it! Don’t expect someone else to give it to you!

          • Orrest

            Well, here is to hoping that you do not discover that despite all the hard work, dedication and the like the world doesn’t always work out. That is how it works for some people, also

            • Mark Too

              Bill Gates said it best … Rule number one. The world is not fair. Get used to it!

              However, hard work to earn a better life is a formula will work out far more times than sitting back hoping someone else (or the government) will do it for you.

              So what is it that you have against wanting a better life and getting it by rolling up your sleeve and earning it?

    • no ambition

      Flipping burgers is beneath most when you can get welfare. Drop out of school, have multiple kids with no fathers, and then whine your’e not getting enough free stuff.

      • It's simple

        I see you have placed no blame on the fathers, but rather the abandoned mothers.

  • Jesse

    Agree 100%!

  • jackactionhero

    I cannot believe a family is consider middle class with a combined income of 50k. That is simply not possible.

    • Ha!

      I’m with you. That’s called poverty. I guess I’m off the charts as far as this story goes but I feel middle class.

  • I'm just sayin'

    another beautiful love story by WCCO to start more class warfare. Was this story fed to you by the administration, acorn, or some other liberal rag? If you folks can not read between the lines and see that the press is a pawn of the current ruler, King Obama then you really are the sheep being led to slaughter.

    • callin' them out

      Exactly. Keep the cattle calm. At a national level, middle class is defined somewhere around the 70,000 range. The percentage of people now on government aid and food stamps has said it all.

    • I'm Just Stupid

      keep spewing trash, your logic is on par with Bachmann on a good day

      • Citizen

        I’m Just Stupid – Yes your Name fits your post perfectly.

  • Socialists will inheretit the earth

    Someone should take out fat assed Grover Norquist.

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