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Why Are Most of Us Middle Class?

Aug 28, 2012 • Behavioral Economics, Developing Economies, Economic Debates, Education, Households, Thinking Economically, Uncategorized, US Presidential Election • 201 Views    No Comments

“What then is the American, this new man?…He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds…Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of man, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”  (J. Hector St. John De Crèvecoeur, U.S. visitor, 1782)

Today, asked “What then is the American?” we would probably answer, “Middle class.”

In an August Pew Research survey of 2508 adults, almost one-half said they were middle class. It seemed not to matter that dividing the number of US households into fifths and then looking at the middle fifth, income ranged from $38,040-$61,720 (2010). Moving beyond any valid income definition, people with more income and less said they were middle class.

Why?

This takes me back to a blog I wrote in 2010:

In a recent NPR interview, a painting contractor, an employee of Healthy Montana Kids, a man who runs a hi-tech robotic firm, and a hospice worker, all earning between $25,000 and $100,000 annually, said they were middle class.

Sort of like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” most Americans prefer identifying themselves as the middle class: “They don’t want to seem {too} poor, they don’t want to seem {too} rich-they want to seem like everyone else.” Why? Probably because middle class means more than income. Also, it connects to our values, our aspirations, our education, our jobs.

In a wonderful column, David Brooks identifies “middle class” as the key to our American identity. But then, he asks, as the rest of the world becomes more like us through a gigantic global middle class, how will we perpetuate our leadership and distinct identity? The answer, he says, are our middle class values. Our middle class values fuel our achievement, our innovation, and our sense of community that everyday activities like Little League embody. While Brooks cites Ben Franklin as a model, I like to remember that John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony said we can be, “A city on a hill.”

Whereas we all agree that people like to identify themselves as middle class, the disagreement starts when we ask what is happening to the middle class. I hope you will take a look at these 2 links. While one focuses on whether middle class income has stagnated and the other looks at the changing size of the middle class, both show that your conclusions depend on how you interpret the statistics. Also, the August Pew Research on the middle class is here, my census statistics come from here, and the Crèvecoeur quote is from here.

Who is middle class?

 

 

 

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