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Nine Out of Ten Americans Consider Themselves Middle Class

In a day and age when teens are tasked with picking multimillion dollar dream homes, it’s not hard to see why

(Robert Recker/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The vast majority of Americans consider their households middle class, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. That perception has been roughly the same for a few years. But by the numbers, only about half of households fall in the “middle class” income range, at $30,000 to $100,000 a year.

Why the great disparity? Among the options on the Pew poll—upper class, upper-middle, middle, lower-middle, and lower—middle class was the most popular choice, at 47 percent (although that percentage has been shrinking). Perhaps more strikingly, a mere 1 percent of families with incomes of over $100,000 consider themselves upper class. And 10 percent consider actually consider themselves lower class.  

The New York Times offers anxiety of a shifting economy as an explanation for the Pew numbers. It's also easy for the rich to feel relatively less well off when they compare themselves to the ultra rich. The Times has trafficked in this sort intra-upper class anxiety; for example, in 2009, the paper published an article titled “You Try to Live on 500K in This Town:”

PRIVATE school: $32,000 a year per student.

Mortgage: $96,000 a year.

Co-op maintenance fee: $96,000 a year.

Nanny: $45,000 a year.

We are already at $269,000, and we haven’t even gotten to taxes yet

The Pew poll suggests another reason Americans' perceptions of their relatively financial situation hasn't budged much: people are still feeling the results of the recession. Pew:

Most (60%) see only a partial recovery in jobs: Just 7% think that the job situation has fully recovered from the recession. And nearly a third (32%) thinks the job situation “has hardly recovered at all.”

Whether or not most Americans should consider themselves "middle class," as country, we all feel stuck where we are.

About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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