What Happened to the Middle Class?

Let’s be honest, we don’t live in an egalitarian society. We might like to think of ourselves vaguely as such, that everyone gets their fair share. That through the divine workings of [insert deity of choice here] and modern capitalism, somehow everything ends up level.

Haha. No.

Modern society, no matter which way you cut it, is founded on the exploitation of others. In America, the belief is that if you work hard enough, someone else will be growing your crops, mowing your lawn and cooking your food, while you lounge on some middle class couch, flipping through Instagram on your overpriced phone hoping that the society of your peers will validate you in the form of likes and shares and comments.

Imagine how far we’ve come, that even our middle class can lounge around in relative luxury like some Roman noble, eating our semi-fresh food grown two continents away and flown in by a massive flying machine.

But wait, you might say. I’m eating ramen and ketchup on crackers. I’m hardly in the lap of luxury.

Well, that’s because you’re no longer middle class. Sorry to say, the societal status of your parents don’t really extend to you unless they can afford to buy your place in the middle class.

So is the middle class dead?

Well depends on what section of the middle class we’re talking about. You see, the middle class is too broad and too large to really be clumped together. It’s generally separated into three sections:

  • Upper: Household annual income of $100k to $350k
  • Middle: Household annual income of $50k to $100k
  • Lower: Household annual income of $30k to $50k

The upper middle class has been expanding at an astounding rate. According to a 2016 Urban Institute study, this section of skilled professionals, small business owners, and corporate middle managers now comprise roughly 29.4% of the US population. In 1979, it was just barely 12.9%.

Take that in for a second. Almost one-third of families in the country is raking in a solid six figure income. A 2014 analysis by USA Today found that to achieve the American Dream™, a family needed an income of $130,000/year. For nearly one-third of Americans, that is within reach.

So where is the rest of middle class? The middle middle class has shrunk to 32 percent of the population, and the lower middle class has shrunk to 17 percent. The problem isn’t that the middle class is shrinking, it’s that the gulf between middle class households is growing.