Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who is the American Middle Class?

I happened upon an article about marriage trends -

Why the marriage gap is bad for America

and it got me wondering, who IS middle class?  This is why:
her definitions:
"Middle Americans" (the 58% of moderately educated Americans who have a high school degree)
financially well-off Americans (the 30% who have a college degree or higher)

really?  Middle America means no college education?  well-off means college degree?  Wow - I know a whole lot of people who consider themselves "Middle Class" who are really "Well-off."

So I started trying to find an actual definition.

Instead I found a few articles:

Who or what is the middle class? Economic data can't fully explain why so many feel financially squeezed By John W. Schoen

Senior Producer
"The varied experiences of Americans who consider themselves middle class aren't really surprising. As economic and social forces buffet families chasing the American Dream, there’s disagreement among the experts who crunch the numbers about how just well or poorly this group is faring — or even who they are.
There is near-universal agreement that the gap in wealth between the richest American and the poorest is widening to levels not seen in nearly a century. But that doesn't tell you much about how those in the middle are faring.
Data aside, being “middle class” in America today appears to be mostly a state of mind. And there are very real sources of anxiety for those who aspire to a comfortable middle-class life in America."

Are you middle class?

American Demographics, Oct, 1996 by Elia Kacapyr, Peter Francese, Diane Crispell

"Being middle class has emerged as a vital part of the 20th-century American pscyhe. The majority of Americans define themselves as middle class, regardless of their actual income level. This perception is obviously off-base, but with no official definition, it's hard to pin down how much Americans overestimate their middle-class status."
I actually really get that bit.  That being middle class has emerged as part of the 20th century American pscyhe.  Really, who claims to be upper class?  Okay - I guess I just don't run in those circles.  Nearly everybody I know claims "middle class."  Which is kind of interesting.
from the same article:
"Where Americans come and go in their economic status is a matter of some controversy within the economic community. One study, based on a longitudinal survey that followed the same households over a period of time, found that more of the people who leave the middle class move up than down.(*) The most recent Census Bureau survey data show that the share of households with incomes of $75,000 or more has doubled in the past 24 years. Other studies, however, discover that more people who depart the middle class move down than up, at least temporarily."
In an article released nearly as I write,

David Brooks: U.S. must define itself by values, not rank

 David Brooks states:

To be middle class is to have money to spend on non-necessities. But it also involves a shift in values. Middle-class parents have fewer kids but spend more time and money cultivating each one. They often adopt the bourgeois values — emphasizing industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement. They teach their children to lead different lives from their own, and as Karl Marx was among the first to observe, unleash a relentless spirit of improvement and openness that alters every ancient institution.

Last year, the Pew Research Center surveyed the global middle class and found that middle-class people are more likely than their poorer countrymen to value democracy, free speech and an objective judiciary. They were more likely to embrace religious pluralism and say that you don't have to believe in God to be good. 

Why ask?  Well, I for one feel that we hear about the American Middle Class everytime anybody in government makes a speech about the budget.  And so I too feel I fall into that spread - although not by some definitions.  I am college educated after all.  I do not live in household in which both husband and wife work full time (he works full time I work part time).  We do emphasize, ambition, neatness (sort of), self improvement, democracy, free speech (with a few limits.  You may not say certain words or phrases to your mother, your teacher or your grandmother!) And I ask because I want to know - I think that these people in government are speaking to me - do they think they are?!?


JJ said...

CailinMarie: Wow! As an educated, working married man, loyal to his spouse and children, I wouldn't know where to begin. I can only say that whatever we hear from politicians or from the mainstream media is driven by a special agenda. It is not meant as a service for the public, but some self-interest. I think we should focus on what we mean by class. Then, we can consider who is middle class. Education used to translate into monetary return. Now, if you are a moron with a reality show, or a scantily clad celebrity with a ghost writer and a book deal, you can become rich overnight, but still be classless. Likewise, a PH.D. can starve today. We must re-think the concept of Middle Class before we define it.

Cellar Door said...

Really interesting reading!

I read somewhere that the more television you watch, the more likely you are to perceive yourself as middle class.