87 percent of Americans call themselves some version of 'middle class'

Illustration for article titled 87 percent of Americans call themselves some version of middle class

Just how big is the middle class in America? That depends on how you define it. But if you ask Americans how they view themselves, the middle class seems pretty damn big. In fact, in a recent poll almost nine out of 10 Americans called themselves some version of "middle class."

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The Pew Research survey found that about 47 percent of Americans called themselves solidly middle class. Roughly 11 percent said they were upper-middle class, and 29 percent said they were lower-middle class. Just 1 percent of Americans called themselves "upper class," while 10 percent called themselves "lower class."

That leaves 87 percent of Americans calling themselves "middle class" in some way or another. Which is curious, because we continue to hear about the disappearance of the middle class in America. In fact, 45.3 million Americans live in what the Census Bureau considers poverty. And 1 in 5 American households with children are food insecure .

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"There is a very big difference between the psychological self-definition of class and anything approaching a useful economic definition of class," Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution recently told the New York Times.

Translation: Americans, no matter what their income, aspire to be identified as middle class. Even people who may take home significantly more than average.

The government doesn't have any strict definition of what "middle class" means. But it might be news to many Americans that "lower middle class" isn't a term used in much of the developed world. Those 29 percent of Americans who identify as lower middle class would more likely call themselves working class in many other parts of the world.

But whatever we call it, America is still struggling to provide the most basic services for many of its people. Including many in the so-called "middle class."

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[New York Times, Pew Research]

Image: 2013 file photo of uncut $100 bills via Getty

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DISCUSSION

The government doesn't have any strict definition of what "middle class" means.

Because an effective, fair definition would, by necessity, be defined separately state-by-state and county-by-county.

I live in southern California, and the income I make here could let my family live very comfortably somewhere like Missouri. We could even buy a house! But this is California, and and living here is stupid-expensive. If my wife and I didn't both work, we couldn't make ends meet... forget about actually buying a house, that isn't going to happen.

In California, we're the very definition of middle class. We aren't suffering, but our living is tenuous, modest, and just barely in the black.

And were we to ever actually move to Missouri, I'd be making a fraction of what I make here, and our situation would be no different... we'd just be in Missouri (ick!) instead of California.