View Full Version : What makes up the middle class?

10-31-2008, 11:30 AM
The last few months we have all heard so much about the middle class, helping the middle class etc. What I'm wondering is who exactly (ok not exactly), makes up the middle class? I hear that if you make $250,000 you still fall within middle class?

Oh, the other thing, you hear both candidates mentioning helping the middle class.... but I can't recall the last time I've heard either address the poor. Or is everyone just grouped together in "middle class".

IMO certainly would make those that are poor feel totally left out of the issues/conversations.


10-31-2008, 11:41 AM
This is an interesting question. I'd like to know, as well. I'd have to say that if I made $250k (either myself or combined with DH), I'd consider myself very well off. I don't know if I'd necessarily consider myself wealthy, but since I do live in a lower cost of living area, I'd probably consider myself close to it if I made that much money. I don't think $250k takes you as far in places like New York, California, Chicago, etc., but I still think it is a lot of money and, presuming one isn't too frivolous with their money, could make life pretty comfortable even in the higher cost of living areas.

10-31-2008, 12:10 PM
Wikipedia mentions income between $25,000 and $100,000.

It also mentions a lower middle class and an upper middle class. I'd say the above example is the lower middle class. A decade ago maybe not but today I think so. I'm thinking of a somewhat tradtional family, 2 incomes, 2 - 3 kids.

I think you don't hear so much about the poor because there are safe guards for them ~ at least as a whole there are programs etc already in place.

ETA~ I have to agree with it really depends on your area's cost of living. Even at $250K in NY city that wouldn't buy you much but here in the midwest you'd be doing well.

10-31-2008, 12:10 PM
From factcheck.org:

There is no standard definition, and in fact, an overwhelming majority of Americans say they are "middle class" or "upper-middle class" or "working class" in public opinion polls. Hardly anybody considers themselves "lower class" or "upper class" in America.

It's possible to come up with a definition of what constitutes "middle income," but it will depend on how large a slice of the middle one prefers. If we look at U.S. Census Bureau statistics, which divide household income into quintiles, we could say that the "middle" quintile, or 20 percent, might be the "middle" class. In 2006, the average income for households in that middle group was $48,561 and the upper limit was $60,224. But we could just as reasonably use another Census figure, median family income. In 2006, the median – or "middle" – income for a family of four was $70,354. Half of all four-person families made more; half made less.

Journalist Chris Baker examined the ambiguous meaning of the term "middle class" in a 2003 Washington Times story. He, too, found no generally accepted definition, but he did get this broad one from Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute: "There are working families who can pay their bills, but they have to really think about such minimal expenditures as picking up a pizza after work, going to the movies, making a long-distance telephone call. They may have some investments, but they depend on each paycheck for their well-being."

But others could have different definitions. Baker interviewed a man who earned about $100,000 a year and a woman who made $35,000, both of whom said they were middle class.

Public opinion polls show how slippery the term can be. An Oct. 2007 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health and National Public Radio asked 1,527 adults what income level makes a family of four middle class. About 60 percent said a family earning $50,000 or $60,000 fit that description. But 42 percent answered an income of $40,000 and 48 percent said $80,000 were both middle class.

Other polls suggest that 90 percent or more of Americans consider themselves to be "middle class" or "upper-middle class" or "working class." An April 2007 poll by CBS News found that of 994 adults surveyed only 2 percent said they were "upper class," and 7 percent said they were "lower class." In another poll, taken by Gallup/USA Today in May 2006, 1 percent said they were "upper class," and 6 percent said they were "lower class." Interestingly, since 12.3 percent of Americans were living below the official federal poverty level in 2006, these poll findings suggest many who are officially poor still consider themselves to be "middle class" or "working class."

So what do politicians mean when they say "the middle class"? Good question. Each politician may be talking about a different group of Americans, but the message many voters hear is that the politician is talking about them.

For example, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards calls for "tax breaks to honor and strengthen three pillars of America's middle class: savings, work, and families." One of his proposals is to expand a tax credit to give dollar-for-dollar matches on savings up to $500 a year. Some version of that credit would be available to families earning up to $75,000.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has proposed eliminating "taxes on dividends, capital gains, and interest on middle class families." He defines "middle class" as anyone with an adjusted gross income of under $200,000 – and acknowledges that such a proposal would affect "over 95 percent of American families."

–Lori Robertson

11-01-2008, 05:26 PM
Thanks so much for the info ---- not surprisingly there are many different definitions. Interesting to read how people label themselves. I just found it interesting that in all the election debates etc, I didn't recall hearing the word "poor". Plus, I never would have considered earning $250,000 straight "middle class". I guess people use it in much broader terms that I would have thought.