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Who Qualifies as Middle Class These Days?

suburbs; via Flickr

Question: What dollar figure or income is in mind when all the politicians and news media speak of the middle class? Who is the middle class at this point in time?

Paul Solman: “Middle class” has long been a fuzzy concept. Richard Parker, who made a splash with his excellent biography of John Kenneth Galbraith a few years ago, wrote a book in the 1970s called The Myth of the Middle Class, in which he emphasized the key distinction, if memory serves, between “lower middle class” and “upper middle class.”

When politicians and news media speak of the middle class, they mean everyone but the rich (top 1 percent?) and the poor (bottom 25 percent?; 28 percent of American families made less than $25,000 a year as of 2006). In other words, most folks in America.

The Obama administration might narrow the range a bit to exclude every household above $250,000 (1.5 percent), since that’s where it intends to start taxing income at a higher rate.

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