What’s Middle Class?

September 15th, 2012 at 2:53 am

Both Gov Romney and President Obama often describe, at least implicitly, the middle class as households with incomes below $250,000 (or $200,000 for individuals).

OK.  But just so we’re all on the same page here, the Census data that just came out show that the median HH income—the amount at the 50th %’ile—was about $50K last year, and, as the figure shows, there are only two percent of HHs with incomes above $250K.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be middle-class in America and scribbled some of that down here.  But most of us would probably agree that the cutoff is somewhere below the 98th percentile.

Just sayin’…

Source: Census Bureau

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4 comments in reply to "What’s Middle Class?"

  1. Jim Carey says:

    What does US income distribution look. Like? Is it a nice normal curve? Is it very flat end to end? I have been following this blog for awhile so I know its not really a simple question. I imagine “middle class” as a bulge in the middle of the after-tax income distribution where lots of incomes cluster. Asserting that “middle-class” is everything above poverty and below the 98th percentile doesn’t align with my expectation that the “middle-class” is a bloc with similar power, similar economic experiences and similar expectations. Is there such a class? Was there such a class?

    I guess a well formed question is: Can we identify an economic group that corresponds to our intuitive idea of middle class?


  2. Fred Donaldson says:

    The Washington Post notes: “The 60 percent of households, earning between roughly $20,000 and $101,000 collectively, earned 46.6 of all income, a 1.5 percent drop. In 1990, they shared over 50 percent of income.”

    The first George Bush was amazed at a visit to a grocery store where prices registered on a screen and there were scanners, so it’s not fair to criticize Romney for believing folks earn a couple hundred thousand extra dollars and thus can afford higher education expenses, more expensive healthcare insurance and less “safety net.”

    I would suggest that some elites consider the solution to your financial emergency is to just draw some more money from your trust fund.


  3. NP says:

    Who cares what the political class is – there is a lot of variation of affiliation usually based on the notion of “low information voters”. However we can definitely say what is “middle income” by definition the middle third of income earners. Her is what I posted over at Brad Delong’s blog:

    NP said in reply to matt w…

    Yes I agree – and it wouldn’t take that much to work out what the ranges of income would be for the middle third of the population. Using this distribution of quintiles which is from the CBO in 2007:

    20 40 60 80 100
    17200 39400 60700 89500 248400

    We can see that the middle third would be about $30,000 to $70,000.


    • Fred Donaldson says:

      Do the Washington elite ever talk to anyone who makes $30k to $70k (middle class) except to tell them to empty a wastebasket or drive them to a club?


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