What is middle class, anyway?

February 1, 2015 – 01:56 pm

Everyone's talking about saving America's middle class. But just who exactly falls into this group?

That's actually a much more difficult question to answer than it seems. While some experts define the middle class by income, others define it by lifestyle. Still others say it's a state of mind.

Here are five different ways that economists, federal agencies and even the White House measure and characterize the middle class.

Income

Whether you're considered middle class most commonly depends on your income. But experts differ on how much you have to earn to fall into this camp. One of the narrowest definitions limits it to those who are literally in the middle fifth of the nation's income ladder. A wider characterization includes everyone but the poorest 20% and the wealthiest 20%. Displayed below is the Pew Research Center's definition, which is two-thirds to two times the national median income for your household size.

*Annual income for a four-person household; Source: Pew Research Center

Wealth

Some Americans may not be bringing in middle-class incomes, but they have a lot of savings or investments. This is particularly true of the elderly living off their nest eggs. So some experts prefer to use wealth as the determining factor. New York University Professor Edward Wolff, for instance, defines middle class as the middle three-fifths of the wealth spectrum. Those below that threshold are in debt and those above are wealthy.

*Net worth; Source: Edward Wolff, NYU

Consumption

Another way to define middle class is by how much you spend. This more accurately reflects your well-being since income doesn't take into account non-cash government benefits, such as food stamps, or savings and can fluctuate greatly from year-to-year, say proponents of this measure.

The consumption measure used by Notre Dame Professor James X. Sullivan includes spending on food, transportation, entertainment, housing and other items. It excludes health care expenses and education, which Sullivan says might be considered investments. He defines the middle class as those in the middle fifth of spending.

*Annual spending for a four-person household; Source: James Sullivan, Notre Dame

Aspiration

Soon after President Obama took office in 2009, he created a task force aimed at raising the living standards of the middle class. But first the task force had to define middle class.

How did it choose to define this group? Through their aspirations ... you know, the house with the white picket fence, the occasional family vacation and a few other things.

Source: White House Task Force on the Middle Class

Demographics

The St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank takes a more complicated approach. They combine sociology with economics to define the middle class. Economists there don't like using annual income because it can vary widely over time.

So it look at three demographic characteristics — age, education and race — that aren't as volatile and that they say better determine one's income and wealth accumulation. The middle class is generally made up of people who fit some combination of the three. (This is not to say, for instance, that every 45-year-old black college grad is middle class.)

The Fed describes those doing better than the middle class as thrivers and those doing worse as stragglers. Check out our flow chart below to see who meets this definition of middle class.

Source: money.cnn.com

Leather Honey Leather Conditioner Leather Honey Leather Conditioner, Best Since 1968 (Half-Pint, 8 oz)
Automotive Parts and Accessories (Leather Honey Leather Conditioner)
  • OUR LEATHER CONDITIONER WAS INVENTED ALMOST 50 YEARS AGO WITH MILLIONS OF HAPPY CUSTOMERS. Same time-tested formula used today!
  • ONE TREATMENT LASTS SIX MONTHS OR LONGER. Deeply penetrates into the leather s pores to protect new leather and rejuvenate old leather. Softens, moisturizes and...
  • THIS LEATHER CONDITIONER PROLONGS THE LIFE OF ALL TYPES OF LEATHER, including leather furniture and upholstery, automobile and motorcycle seats, boots, gloves, purses...
  • UNLIMITED 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE. If you re not satisfied, return the product at any time for a full refund.
  • A LEATHER CONDITIONER THAT IS MADE IN THE USA by a small family business owned by the grandchildren of the original inventor. Use with Leather Honey Leather Cleaner...
Mens Unique Roman Numeral Fashion Design Quartz Analog Waterproof Wrist Business Casual Watch with Stainless Steel Case, 98ft 30M 3ATM Water Resistant, Comfortable PU Leather Band - Brown
Watch (Aposon)
  • CLASSIC CASUAL DESIGN: analog dress watch casual design, leather band, roman number time mark with the simplicity of business casual, bring you back to the classic...
  • DURABLE with COMFORT: stainless steel water proof case cover, soft leather watch band provide comfortable wearing experience.
  • PRECISE TIME KEEPING: CITZEN Japanese Quartz Movement, provide precise and accurate time keeping
  • WATERPROOF FOR DAILY USE: 98 FT waterproof (30 M), HANDWASH, SWIMMING, NO PROBLEM ! Perfect for all kind of business, casual, indoor activities or daily use. NOTE:...
  • WHAT IS IN THE PACKAGE: Aposon Business Causal Leather Band Watch x 1
Gearbubble Life is What Happens Between Coffee and Wine - Funny - 11oz Coffee Mug - Gift
Kitchen (Gearbubble)
  • BRIGHTEN UP THOSE MORNINGS: We stock the most unique coffee mugs with sayings around. Whether you re looking for a bit of inspiration in the morning or humorous...
  • DESIGNED TO LAST: Proudly made in the USA using high-grade ceramic, our printed on both sides coffee cups and mugs give you durability to last for years. This ceramic...
  • HIGH QUALITY PRINT: We use cutting-edge mug printing technology to design these cool coffee mugs. So you can wash and re-wash the printed mugs without every worrying...
  • AMAZING GIFT IDEA: These coffee mugs with quotes are those gifts under $20 that you simply can t go wrong with. Whether you re shopping for a present for that birthday...
  • OTHER SELLERS LIKE: Julianne Nickerson, Myles Sperry, Stephen Fromwiller - ARE FORFEITERS. PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU ONLY PURCHASE THIS MUG FROM US - LAMINAS BRAND...
Extra Large 7 Day 4 Doses A Day Travel/Home Pill Box Holder Dispenser Prescription Medication & Supplements Organizer with PU Leather Private Booklet Case-Each Compartment Fits 9 Fish Oils Vitamin D
Health and Beauty (Zzteck)
  • • PERFECT GIFT for In Home Senior Care: 7 day AM/PM - 4 LARGE compartment Morn, Noon, Eve, Night | Bright colored detachable pill boxes with braille symbols for...
  • The case is close on the sides with PU leather (see pictures) to protect the pills from the light for avoiding deterioration and provide added privacy.
  • Premium fashion PU Leather carrying booklet case with secure MAGNATIC snap closure makes it easier for seniors to open and close the binder. Travel Pill Organizer...
  • PLEASE CHECK THE PRODUCT DIMENSIONS IN THE PICTURES if you are concerned about the size of the pill box. Meant for those taking large pills, like fish oil, or a...
  • Easy HIGH quality open lids for refilling with snap shut secure deeper and larger compartments unlike flimsy pill cases.
Sport2People Running Pouch Belt - iPhone 6 , 7 Plus Holder for Runners - Best Running Gear for Hands Free Workout - Fanny Waist Pack with Two Pockets - Water Resistant & Reflective Fitness Accessories
Sports (Sport2People)
  • SAVE YOUR PHONE FROM SCRATCHES! Get Sport2People workout belt with TWO EXPENDABLE POCKETS now! By carrying your phone and keys together in a pocket, you can expect...
  • MAKE YOUR TRAVELING EASIER & SAFER! Store your valuables in our fanny pack belt put it around your waist and cover with shirt or jacket. Your valuables are out...
  • BE SAFE AND SEEN while running or walking in the dark! Sport2People running accessories with 3 REFLECTIVE DARTS will make you safer at nights or mornings. Strap...
  • ENJOY YOUR OUTDOOR OR GYM ACTIVITY WITH YOUR HANDS FREE! Sport2People reflective running gear for all family! KEEP YOUR PRECIOUS IPHONE 6 PLUS AND OTHER NECESSITIES...
  • HAVE MORE FUN DURING YOUR ACTIVITIES WITH THE BEST FITNESS BELT you can find OR FULL REFUND! With special earphones hole in the belt you can have more pleasant and...

Related posts:

  1. What Is a Christian family?
  2. What I love about my family?
  3. What is important about family?