Do you consider yourself part of the middle class, and how can you tell?

Both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney say their policies would benefit the middle class. But a new study says the share of Americans who identify themselves as belonging to the middle class is shrinking. Today’s Question: Do you consider yourself part of the middle class, and how can you tell?

  • reggie

    Yes, I think of myself as middle class, and I offer in evidence the fact that I have the leisure, inclination, and tools to interact in this forum. Really poor people don’t have those luxuries, and really rich people are too busy creating jobs to spend time here.

    If one thinks of the middle class in terms of median household income, census figures show the middle fifth of the population with 2009 incomes between $38,500-61,800.

    That income wouldn’t buy much of what we think of as middle class: own a home and car(s), have leisure time for big toys and vacations, be able to send children to college, etc.

    In the mouths of politicians, “middle class” is a pandering term meant to signify “you,” as in, “you” will get more of the pie. In reality, neither candidate or party will do much to benefit the actual middle class.

  • Kurt

    Yes. I am neither rich nor poor, so I must be in the middle. Live in a nice neighborhood, own a home, have saved for retirment, don’t require subsidies from government or corporations. Life is good. I built it.

  • Rich

    @ Kurt

    Assuming you have a mortgage on your home, the government subsidizes you with the mortgage interest deduction. Your retirement 401K is tax-free subsidy until you choose to with-draw your funds. Do you have employer provided/subsidized health benefits? If so you do not pay taxes on that benefit/subsidy either. Your kids go to public schools? You or your family drive on or use the roadways. The federal government subsidizes our local communities clean drinking water. I could go on and on, but I need to go to work…..

  • Anna

    I consider myself middle-class, even though financially I have been lower class for the last decade. The reason why I consider myself middle-class is that I completed graduate school and licensing exams in my profession in the past year, my mother is an M.D., and many of my religious, social, and political views are very middle class. If we judge this simply by looking at income… I have only been able to work temp jobs sporadically for years, and I am attempting private practice (so far unsuccessfully) while looking for work in my field (also, unsuccessfully.) I have mountains of student debt, still have debt from my undergraduate years (mid-90’s), and have had to rely on public assistance off and on for the last four years. The false promises of college and graduate school have left me overqualified for the jobs that would help me to at least get by. It horrifies me to see other graduate-level jobs (i.e. college librarians) who are hired at an hourly rate which is too low to pay back their graduate school loans, and I think a lot of other grad-school graduates are in the same situation now. I have a hard time recommending college or graduate school to anyone at this point.

  • Kurt

    @Rich

    I have nothing available to me that isn’t available to anyone else. I have been unemployed at times (and no, I did not collect unemployment at that time). I have worked at absolutely miserable jobs for periods of time because that was what was available to me. The last time I checked, the Government wasn’t depositing money into my 401k. I made the middle class life that I have. Oh, and I pay taxes, so I am paying for those public schools and roads-probably your share. And no, I don’t have a mortgage. There you have it.

  • Steve the Cynic

    I suppose I am. My income is in the neighborhood of the median, but not above it. More importantly, I have enough to be content, so I don’t feel like I have to be constantly striving for more, and not so much that I’m at risk of affluenza. I have good friends, family, meaningful employment that I enjoy, and time to sing, write, tell jokes, and enjoy arts and literature.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Re: “I made the middle class life that I have.”

    Congratulations, Kurt! Very clever of you to have arranged to be born into a part of the world and a time in history when a middle class exists, where there was a stable government, social cohesion, schools, and effective institutions of civilization, rather than in a place or time beset by social strife, famine, war, pestilence, tyrrany, etc.

  • jon

    Poor is a state of mind, broke is a state of wallet.

    Thanks to the near universal acceptance of credit cards, I’m rarely broke, but I’m often poor.

    When the AC breaks in early spring, and it’s a serious discussion on weather we can afford to get a new AC unit this year, or if maybe we’ll have a mild summer (in hindsight we did not.) and we can just tough it out.

  • kim

    What’s the world coming to? In recent days, I find myself agreeing with Steve the Cynic most of the time.

    If you do the math, you’d have to stretch the lower limit to include me in the “middle class”. And, I kind of resent the idea that “middle class values” are any different from any other values. I wouldn’t call myself “poor”. I have work I enjoy and the ability to do it. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, the bills get paid, and enough money left over to buy food for the dogs. What more could you ask?

    Something to think about, on that famous, oft talked about, mortgage deduction. I have a mortgage and I pay taxes. I don’t take the mortgage deduction because, my accountant tells me, I don’t earn enough and the mortgage isn’t high enough to make it worth taking. That precious deduction isn’t exactly the great equalizer. Below a certain point, it does you no good at all, They could remove all those tax incentives and it wouldn’t affect my taxes a bit.

  • Jim G

    Yes, the wife and I are in the middle class. We both have college degrees and our joint income puts us in the middle of the middle class. Of the adult children in the family, the daughter has her degree and we have college loans that we’re paying for that pig skin diploma. After two years of looking she now has a salaried job working 50-60 hours a week. That seems to be the expected work week for the average American corporate worker these days. So for now, she’s in the middle class too.

    Our son has a different story and future. He has been diagnosed with an autism disability, and although extremely bright is currently mired in the low class and has been since 2009. We have hopes, especially his mother that he’ll find a job that will provide a living wage so that he’ll be able to support himself. The effect of Romney’s budget cuts to the lower class could drastically affect him and our family. That’s why we vote Democratic and support Obama, even though we live in a Republican suburb.

  • Rich

    Kurt, my point was that the “middle class” is indeed subsidized. Many of which are so-called “tax expenditures” aka tax breaks. Whether one chooses to acknowledge that fact is irrelevant.

    This is the argument that is being made during this election cycle. How much and how many subsidies do we as a country need and or do we want to pay for. And the “middle class” is truly subsidized by tax policy And most folks have come to accept them as a part of their standard of living.

  • Mark

    Interesting question. I think most people want to see themselves as middle class because they can always find class comparisons that are richer and some that are poorer….Saying that, I think politicians make a mistake in lumping the poor and middle class into one group when they talk about helping us because almost no one wants to be thought of or designated as “poor”, even though they may well fit into that group, including myself.

  • david

    I certainly don’t think so anymore. What was middle class for my parents isn’t the same middle class anymore. While i earn what is considered middle class, it is not enough to provide the same security my parents enjoyed. One prolong lay off followed by one serious illness and I’m now in a hole it will take years to climb out of. If ever. Every step forward seems to lead to two steps back. Wages are not just stagnant, but going backwards now. Student loans and medical bills are 1/2 of my pay. Job security is nonexistent. I’m now looking for a second job just to pay for health insurance. That’s why when morons like bachmann and romney say their biggest goal is to repeal Obamacare it boils my blood. Maybe if they offered a viable alternative, but they offer nothing. Obama’s plan may not be perfect, but i thought it would start a serious discussion, instead of rallying the obstructionist. I guess you have to have a “preexisting condition” and be facing sky high deductibles before you care. Truth is it wasn’t on my mind until i got into that boat. Just wake up you middle classers. You are on a tightrope and getting older everyday. Middleclass is an illusion built on a house of cards.

  • CarlS

    Yes.

    If you are not truly poor or wealthy, then you part of the middle class. There is the somewhat subjective lower and upper middle class definitions, but as long as you are financially stable with an income and/or a sound plan (with education, skills, etc,) for maintaining income you are not poor or in poverty. If you have so much money now that you never have to be concerned about anything financially related for the rest of your life you are wealthy.

  • GregX

    Define middle class.

    Is income the sole measure for this question? Then yes.

    Does it require belonging to a faith or following a religion ? – Then no.

    Does it mean being able to afford a home, car and vactions every year? Then maybe.

    Does it mean being able to retire at 60 ? 65? .. then No, and No again.

    Does it mean a college education ? Then Yes

    Does it mean demanding others to show government registered ID’s for voting .. Then no.

    Does it mean inserting religious dogma in state consitutuions ? Then no.

  • Jeanne

    I am grateful to be a middle class American. I know how fortunate I am (not rich…responsible and fortunate.) I know how fortunate because I achieved the American Dream and have done better than my parents were able to do with less than high school education and my Dad being a blue collar worker all his life. My husband and I both have college degrees, he has an advanced degree. We have both have had public sector jobs which as well as private sector jobs, but loved the public sector because it allowed us to do work we felt was of great benefit to society. Public service. And we chose, with open eyes, the lower pay scale that traditionally public sectors paid, knowing the trade off of relative job security and a pension plan was worth it. Remember, when we were making these choices, the private sector was thriving, with strong unions, high paying jobs and lots of private pension plans and perqs we did not have. But public service, that’s a built-in job reward.

    We own our home (with a mortgage nowhere near being paid off as we approach retirement because we used our own assets to weather hard times.) We’ve raised two daughters to adulthood, able to assist them to get their own college degrees. We have always been able to pay our monthly bills, put food on our table, clothes on our backs (sometimes home made clothing, but still good) and buy medicine when we need it.

    We have been able to save for retirement despite stock market set backs, though NOT a lavish retirement. We never drive new cars (both our cars are WELL over the 100,000 mileage mark!); have never had a big screen TV; never provided video games for our kids or cable TV; we seldom take lavish vacations; we’ve never had a fancy home. Most travel is by car or train and often to visit family. Never been to Europe, but hope to save enough to go one day. Able to give to charity and our church. And we know we are fortunate to live in this country, where government supports everything needed to keep our infrastructure intact; enable us to anticipate retirement with security, dignity and health care; supports good public schools available to all; keeps the food, water and air reasonably safe and clean.

    At least in the past the government has been able to provide supports for and protect our middle class (American Dream) aspirations. I hope it continues to be able to do so. I vote Democratic.

  • GregX

    Middle-class is the wrong term. Middle income is better. “Meat on the hoof for banking and financial sector” is probably the most accurate.

  • Paul

    I’m part of the middle class because I can afford health care.

  • Jim G

    You may think that you have made your middle class life solely on your own effort, but this study documents that all it takes is a divorce, sudden illness, or job loss to knock you out of the middle class.

    True Story:

    My ex-wife and I lived a middle class life in a new home with nice cars attending an evangelical church: the epitome of middle class life in our suburban world. Then entropy hit the fan. We divorced. My ex-wife started her new life as a single person. She was employed in the medical field making a comfortable living. Things were going great for her.

    Two years passed and she was happy; making new friends and enjoying her job at the hospital. Then entropy hit the fan again: one morning she couldn’t get out of bed. She had suffered a stroke.

    She lost her good job because of the paralysis on her right side, and with it she lost her good insurance. When she couldn’t pay her living expenses, and she couldn’t live independently, she lost her home. Her elderly parents helped her move out-of–state to be closer to them. Now, she’s no longer in the middle class. Today, she’s on disability living in state she hasn’t lived in for 35 years with no support system other than her elderly parents and distant siblings. The social network she had built in Minnesota over 35 years is gone.

    The 1% does not have to worry about dropping out of their privileged class because of divorce, illness, or job loss and that’s what makes their lives so different from the middle class. I know that my comfortable middle class life can disappear in an instant.

  • J

    Was middle class. Chemical engineer from a very high quality university. Good job, but relatively low wages working for the state. 20+ years of continuous dedicated work. Now, due to a sudden unexpected illness, I am watching my IRA savings evaporate as I try to maintain mortgage and health insurance payments (COBRA) on an insufficient long term disability insurance (A benefit many people don’t even have.) May lose my family’s home, even though it was a responsible enough debt to take out in 2003. Children should be headed to college in the next few years, but unless a miracle happens (and they don’t), my children are only going to be heading to college if they somehow manage to weather the stress this is putting the family through and get great scholarships or take out massive student loans. I should’ve been able to provide for them. I’d give everything for them not be burdened with me. But there is no safety net. If you think you’re middle class, my advice might be “Don’t look down”, because you are probably only one or two unfortunate events away from poverty. All you have to do wrong is get sick. And there is nobody to catch you when you fall.

  • Chad

    I am part of the middle class because my money doesn’t make its own money.

  • georges

    You are poor if…..you always have to consider whether you can afford something you want to buy.

    You are wealthy if…..you never have to consider whether you can afford something you want to buy.

    You are middle class if…..you are anywhere between the above definitions of poor and wealthy.

  • Kurt

    @Steve

    Wow! Snide AND moot.

    300+ million “clever souls” presently live in this country with its stable government, social cohesion, etc. Why then, aren’t we all middle class? You can either accept that you are the architect of your life such as you find it, or, adopt a fatalistic approach, whereby you view yourself as so much human flotsam. There are no guarantees with the first approach. As others have pointed out, ones environment may suddenly shift (as they may for all 300 million of us).

    The second approach has as its great advantage that it allows the individual to cast blame for ones lot even in the absence of catastrophe (those evil plutocrats,blah,blah, blah).

    I suppose there is comfort in that for you.

    Not my choice.

  • Julie

    I used to consider my family Middle Class, but now I feel we are part of the Working Poor. Our 2 full-time incomes don’t go as far as they used to. Even though we only have one child, and live modestly, we have to pinch every penny to squeak by. I don’t honestly know if we will be able to stay in our small home over the next few years. That is something I never had to worry about in the past.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Re: “You can either accept that you are the architect of your life such as you find it, or, adopt a fatalistic approach, whereby you view yourself as so much human flotsam.”

    That’s a false dichotomy, Kurt. Yes, there’s a rough correlation between working hard and/or smart, and economic prosperity, but it’s not absolute. There is a certain amount of luck involved in how much of a boost your parents are able to give you, how good the schools are in the area you grow up in, how much crime there is in your neighborhood, etc. I’ve known plenty of people who did everything right and still wound up at the bottom of the heap, and others who clearly just got lucky. I knew a man with a small business in the Seattle area who was barely scraping by, until the Microsoft boom caused the value of the real estate his shop was on to explode. He sold out and retired a millioinaire. Did he earn that? No, he got lucky. Much more common are the stories of people who are solidly middle class until one or two bad breaks wipe them out. You, Kurt, found a way to prosper in the life situation you found yourself in. But did you create the system in which prosperity was possible? The idea that one earns and deserves everything that comes one’s way leads to arrogance and makes it too easy to rationalize a lack of compassion.

  • mark

    Everything Steve said is right on the target. I have worked extremely hard my entire life and have a college degree and numerous academic awards and federal certifications for employment but after 1000+ applications being sent out it gets harder and harder not to be cynical and believe that the ” deck is stacked against me” in finding emploment and getting into the “middle class ” will never happen. That is a fact and there are many out there that feel the same way.

  • Una Duckfoot

    I define rich as “not having to work if you don’t want to [even without social security if old enough to receive it]” and poor as “not having anything left over after [hopefully] paying for necessities”. Anyone between the two could be considered middle class.

    This might be why most people consider themselves middle class, and why some people higher on the income scale don’t consider themselves rich while those on the lower end think they are. There are some people who could probably never work again IF they were willing to live in a small apartment and keep indulgences under $100/month; but most people used to an upscale lifestyle wouldn’t consider it. They instead believe that they can’t get by without working and therefore are middle class.

  • Kurt

    I don’t find myself disagreeing with much that you’ve said here, Steve.

    Yes, some people get incredibly lucky while others seem tragically cursed. I do grow tired, though, of those who seem to think that anyone who has been successful has Government to thank. That is but bitterness writ large.

    Its funny, but I find myself thinking of Hillary Clintons’ book; I believe it was called “It takes a Village”. I confess I haven’t read it. I surmise, given her politics, that she views Government as the village. In my youth, individuals were the village. This one bought a baseball glove for a child that couldn’t afford one. Another noticed, and nourished, another’s interest in music. It seemed to work rather well. So, as far as compassion goes, I think it is folly to outsource that to the Government. I myself have been very, very fortunate to this point in my life. Its just that Government, as I see it, had little to do with it.

  • Steve the Cynic

    We’ve been over that territory before, Kurt. I think the key difference between your views and mine on the subject is that you’re thinking of government as “them,” and I’m thinking of it as “us.” (And no, I haven’t had a government paycheck since I left the military at age 26.)

  • jockamo

    You know you are in the middle-class…..

    When you find Obama’s hand in your back pocket, stealing your money and giving it to his wealthy banker buddies.

    (Who then give him a generous kickback)

    Har

  • Sandra

    Even though I am nowhere near a 6 figure income, I must be rich. President Obama said he would only raise taxes on the rich. Well, that will include many in the ‘middle class’ so we must all be rich!

    Regardless of who occupies the White House next year, people need jobs! Jobs will help grow the middle class. Those moving into or out of the middle class will then have money to save, spend, and yes, donate to public radio.

  • Kurt

    @Steve

    Yes. I am more comfortable dealing with individuals where that is possible rather than having a bureaucracy broker the exchange.

  • Julie

    Please take note Har, that the bailout you refer to was approved by President Bush, before Obama took office. Many people erroneously connect it to Obama becuase the execution of the bailout trailed into his term.