The Shrinking Middle Class

The vast majority of Americans consider themselves “middle class.” No one can quite agree, though, on what that means. Richard Reeves, along with colleagues at the Brookings Institution, has cataloged no fewer than a dozen economic formulas that seek to define this elastic cohort largely by what people earn each year: household income between X and Y; personal income that’s within some percentage of the national median; distance from the poverty line; and so on. Combine the lot, and the range of who might be considered middle class is extraordinarily expansive—including anyone from a single, part-time bartender scratching by on $13,000 a year to a suburban power couple pulling in $230,000, or 90% of American households in all.

Other economists and social scientists stretch the boundaries of membership in different dimensions, based on degrees of wealth or spending power, professional status or education level, what neighborhood you live in, or even on that very American of conceits, self-determination—which is to say, if you think you’re middle class, you are.

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