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How Do You Know If You’re In The American Middle Class?

How Do You Know If You’re In The American Middle Class?

February 28, 2024


Attempting to clearly define the middle class is not as easy as you would think, as the concept is complex and nuanced. For people, the middle class typically reflects one of these three categories , according to the Brookings Institute: economic resources; education and occupation status; or attitudes, self-perception and mindset.

A 2022 Gallup survey revealed that about half of adults in the United States identify as a member of the middle class, including 38% who consider themselves as “middle class” and 14% as “upper-middle class.”

The Pew Research Center defines “middle class” as earning an income between two-thirds and twice the national median income . The middle class is generally perceived as those who fall between the socio-economic hierarchy of the working class and upper class.

Those that have attained a college degree, are homeowners, able to send their children to college and have discretionary income consider themselves members of the middle class.

Others derive middle-class status from their professions, including white-collar office workers, managers, entrepreneurs—even if they’re in the blue-collar sector—and civil servants that receive a steady income, job security, a pension and good benefits.

Middle-Class Jobs

Middle-class jobs generally require a specific expertise that makes them needed. There are barriers to entering these fields, needing to possess core competencies, hold job-related degrees, licenses or an apprenticeship in the skilled trades.

The types of jobs held by people in the middle class require at least an associate’s degree, but more often than not, a bachelor’s degree or higher is needed. They are paid relatively well compared to lower-class jobs, but fall below the compensation range of the upper 1% wealth class.

Roles include registered nurses, accountants, electricians, teachers, recruiters, human resources, police officers, plumber and chef.

How Much Money You Need To Be In The Middle Class?

The middle class has been shrinking over the past five decades as more Americans have entered either the upper or lower-income brackets. This cohort fell from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2021. Meanwhile, the upper-income wealthy Americans saw their ranks swell from 25% to 29%, according to Pew data analysis of government data.

Middle-class households have an income that is two-thirds to double that of the U.S. median household income, after it has been adjusted for household size, which in 2021 was $70,784, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By those metrics, American households earning between $47,189 and $141,568 would be considered middle class.

It’s Not Just About The Money

Discussions around middle-class calculations neglect to account for social and cultural capital.

A poll by the Washington Post found that about nine in 10 U.S. adults said that there are certain benchmarks of financial security and stability that must be met to be considered a member of the middle class. These indicators include having a steady employment, the ability to save money, not being financially offrailed by an $1,000 emergency expense, access to health insurance and the ability to retire relatively comfortably.

Others would consider homeownership and paid sick leave markers for middle-class designation.

By Jack Kelly, Senior Contributor

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