America’s Middle Class: What is it and How to Measure it
By T.J. Coles, PIPR
Submitted by Author
Tuesday, Oct 10, 2017
|Trump and his mouthpieces like Alex Jones of InfoWars frequently talk about the “middle class.” It is a vague term designed to appeal to people who are actually lower class and disguise their class status from them. It is also designed to conceal the fact that Trump’s voters were mainly upper-middle and upper class.
But what is the real middle class and how does it vote?
[This article is taken from President Trump, Inc. (2017, Clairview Books). Watch for the Axis of Logic review of the latest book from T.J. Coles (Voices for Peace) later this week. - prh, ed.]
In Great Again (2015) Trump tries to appeal to America’s 50 million poor people by pretending that they constitute “the middle class.” He describes them as “the bedrock of this country” (p. x). Actually, the middle class is the middle, not the bottom 45-50 million, most of whom tend to vote Democrat.
Post-war prosperity was such that by 1971, 61% of Americans were middle class. These days only 50% of Americans enjoy that position. Just 4% of Americans enjoyed higher-incomes (super-wealth) in the post-war years. Now the figure is 9%. In 1970, 62% of America’s aggregate income was distributed among the middle class and 29% went to the upper class. By 2014, however, 43% went to the middle class and 49% went to the upper class, even though upper class earners were and remain in the minority. Today, 29% of Americans are lower class (or working class) and 20% are upper class.
This has important implications for how people vote.
Pew Research says that 120.8m American adults are middle class. Most of the remaining ones are working class. But what does this mean?
INCOME BY STATE
A one-person household earning $24,000 to $73,000 per annum is middle class, according to Pew’s standard. But a five-person household needs to earn $54,000 to $162,000 to qualify. To complicate matters further, Business Insider calculates the value of income across states. The article excludes the number of persons per household from its analysis. Still, it demonstrates that households need to earn above $40k per annum to qualify as middle class in Alaska, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Virginia. Money goes further in Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
In these states, people need to earn $25k-29k per annum to qualify as middle class. The other states require workers to earn $30-40k to qualify—hence the popularity of Trump in rural areas among middle class Americans who might seem “poor” by city measures.
Harvard sociologist Dr William Julius Wilson notes that “[r]ising inequality is beginning to produce a two-tiered society in America,” and not just in the USA, one might add. “The more affluent citizens live lives fundamentally different from the middle- and lower-income groups. This divide decreases a sense of community.” The “divided sense of community” is empowering the far-right. A Pew Research Center survey finds that “85% of self-described middle class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle class people to maintain their standard of living.”
A Stanford University study finds “a steady decline in the proportion of families living in middle class neighborhoods from 1970-2007, and a corresponding increase in the number of families in neighborhoods at the extremes of the neighborhood income distribution,” i.e. very rich and very poor. “The residential isolation of the both poor and affluent families has grown over the last four decades,” the study continues. This has damaging effects on social cohesion, as wealthier families seek to literally fence themselves off from their poorer, supposedly more crime-prone neighbours. “[O]nly 15 percent of families in 1970 lived in one of the two extreme types of neighbourhoods [i.e., rich and poor], but by 2007 that number had more than doubled to 31 percent of families.”
The Financial Crisis and Great Recession made things worse. America’s income distribution (2015 figures) is as follows: 11.6% of the population earns less than $15,000 per year; 10.5% earns between $14-25,000; 10% earns between $24-35,000; and 12.7% earns $34-50,000. By far the biggest bracket is the $50,000 to $74,999 group, which consists of 16.7% of the population. 12.1% earns $74-100,000 per annum, 6.2% earns $150,000 to $199,999 and 6.1% earns over $200,000. Yet, as we have seen, the upper brackets get a bigger share of the pie.
When it comes to Black Americans: 1.2% are upper class, 46.5% are middle class, 28.8% are working class, and 23.5% are in poverty. By 1984, the median net worth of the average black American adult was $6,679 (in savings, assets, interest on earnings, etc.) compared to the average white’s $76,951. Like white people, black people saw their median net worth decline. By 2009, it had dropped to $5,677.
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