I bet your gut response was YES.
When I was growing up (poor), Mom and Dad raised me to think that we were better off financially than our neighbors. Accordingly, I learned to think we were a middle class family. Although that probably wasn’t true, by the numbers, it was true for us psychologically. After all, we were just as good as the next family, right?
Sometimes it seems that it is almost un-American to NOT think you are middle class. Not many want to claim they are poor or disadvantaged (perhaps even somewhat ‘below average’ with all those negative connotations), and who wants to be considered part of the ‘evil rich’.
Being part of middle class America is popular. Our concept of middle class is fuzzy. So fuzzy in fact that everyone from poverty level seniors to mansion-living couples claim to be in it.
A 2014 Money article What It Means to Be Middle Class Today reported that:
“Jerry Love, who runs a certified public accountant firm in Abilene, Texas, and works with the middle class and the fabulously wealthy, says he has clients earning $300,000 to $400,000 annually who nonetheless consider themselves middle class.”
A Wall Street Journal poll found that respondents with earnings between 30,000 and $100,000 all said that their income level was middle class.
Heck, I’m still consider myself to be middle-class, even though I’m in the top 10% of Americans based on income amounts.
Why do so many of us identify with middle class?
It’s not just about the money. Folks here (and everywhere) seem to value the ability to move ahead, for each generation to do better than the prior, to get an education, to be self-made, to own that house, and be materially well grounded.
We like to think that we are just as good as the next guy (secretly better), not that we make less, have lower standards or are part of the snobby self-indulgent rich.
The Atlantic’s article, Meet the New Middle Class: Who They Are, What They Want, and What They Fear, reported on a 2013 Allstate/National JournalHeartland Monitor Poll trying to get an answer to what is middle class? According to the article, 54% picked “having the ability to keep up with expenses and hold a steady job while not falling behind or taking on too much debt”
There’s that ‘work ethic’ – one of our ‘middle-class’ values.
USA Today thinks that our vision comes from the 50’s when our parents and grandparents found good jobs, moved to the burbs and took vacations.
And then there is the media. Lots of our shows perpetuate the image that we all have a right to middle class affluence. Maybe that is why our credit card bills are so high!
By the numbers, what is middle-class?
According to the 2014 Wealth Report, put out by Credit Suisse, the world-wide range for middle class is $10,000 to $100,000 net worth (in US dollars).
In What It Means To Be Middle Class Today, Money reported:
“Median household income was $51,017 in 2012, according to the most recent U.S. census data. Robert Reich, a professor of Public Policy at the University of California-Berkeley and former Secretary of Labor, has suggested the middle class be defined as households making 50 percent higher and lower than the median, which would mean the average middle class annual income is $25,500 to $76,500.”
But what if you live in New York City instead of Wichita KS? Cost of living is higher in some areas than others, causing companies to pay more and more of your salary to go towards necessities. To get a more accurate figure, PEW research came up with a different definition, those making between 67 percent and 200 percent of the state’s median income based on analysis of the American Community Survey, U.S. Census and IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota.
Business Insider used the median net worth from the American Community Survey (done by the US Census) and the above definition to figure out what dollar figure would be middle class income in each state. Take a look.
Are you middle class?
This is a very interesting question. For sometime now I’ve believed that the traditional understanding of class. There has been research work in the UK where seven classes emerge; the way one defines these is not only about income and money but also about values.