Middle Class Is Shrinking, Difficult To Define
When President Donald Trump was on the campaign trail, one of his main talking points was the middle class, and, in his words, its destruction.
“The middle class are getting absolutely destroyed,” he said in August 2015, soon after he kicked of his presidential run. “This country won’t have a middle class soon.”
That appeal to middle Americans, pundits said, was part of the reason for Trump’s victory. And although the word “destroyed” is too harsh to be entirely accurate, it’s true that the American middle class has been shrinking. From 2000 to 2014, adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 out of 229 U.S. metropolitan areas, according to a Pew Research Center report released last year.
There’s no easy or direct way to define the middle class. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t define it.
“The Census Bureau does not have an official definition of ‘middle class,’” the Census Bureau website states. “We do, however, derive several measures related to the distribution of income and income inequality.”
In short, whether you’re middle class depends on the where the rest of the country stands, too. But other organizations have developed their own ways to measure middle class. Pew, for instance, defines the middle class as the 51 percent of adults who live in the middle bracket, in between 29 percent who live in higher-income households and 20 percent living in lower income households.
If that’s tricky to understand, here’s the range for the middle income bracket: If you earn $46,960 to $140,900, you’re considered middle class, according to Pew’s data.
Pew has an online calculator to help users figure out whether they fall in the middle income bracket. It also adjusts for location, educational achievement, race and marital status. People compare themselves to others who fit in their demographic profile.
But, increasingly, many Americans have money that’s not included in their incomes — a hefty savings account, for instance, or investments might make a person wealthier than their income suggests.
So, another way to calculate middle class is to take a look at the wealth spectrum. According to New York University Professor Edward Wolff, the middle class includes the middle three-fifths on that spectrum, which is anyone who has $0 to $401,000 in wealth.