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Politics and Economy:
Who is the Middle Class?
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America is sometimes called a "middle-class country," but nobody — not economists, sociologists, or the U.S. Census Bureau — seems to have a clear definition of who the middle class actually is. The notion of where a dividing line between "middle class" and "working class" might be is an elusive one. In November 2003, Chris Baker of THE WASHINGTON TIMES reported in "What is middle class?" that the Census Bureau shows the middle 20% of the country earning between $40,000 and $95,000 annually. The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a non-partisan and non-profit organization, reports that the middle class has conventionally come to mean families with incomes between $25,000 and $100,000 each year.

But if you ask the American people, you'll get yet another response. According to statistics from the National Opinion Research Center, as reported by Baker, large numbers of American define themselves as "working class" or "middle class," including:

  • 50% of those families who earn between $20,000 and $40,000 annually
  • 38% of those families who earn between $40,000 and $60,000 annually
  • 16.8% of those families who earn over $110,000 annually
As NOW reported in "Middle Class Squeeze" (December 13, 2002), the shape of income distribution in America is changing and many are finding it increasingly difficult to afford housing while keeping up with necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and health care. In Baker's article, Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Optimal Solutions Group, explains, "Based on those [income data] numbers, the statistical middle class can't afford the middle-class lifestyle. I think that's why there is so much confusion about what it is and why so many people have trouble identifying themselves as anything but middle class."

With the 2004 campaign year underway, the Drum Major Institute has surveyed the major Democratic candidates to find out where they stand on protecting the middle class and restoring mobility to poor and working families who want to earn their way into the middle class. Read the candidates' records and proposals on such issues as minimum wage, bankruptcy abuse protection, federal regulation of credit card and lending industries, health insurance, unemployment insurance and more in "The Myth of the Middle? Campaign 2004 on America's Middle Class." Also, read President George W. Bush's plan to strengthen America's economy on the White House page for Jobs and Economic Growth.

Sources: United States Census Bureau; Drum Major Institute for Public Policy; THE WASHINGTON TIMES.

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