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Sociologists William Thompson and Joseph Hickey in 2005 split the middle class into several categories:
1. Capitalist class (1%). Top-level executives, celebrities, heirs, income of $500,000 plus. Often Ivy League educated.
2. Upper middle class (15%). Highly educated (often with graduate degrees) professionals and managers with household incomes varying from high five figures to commonly above $100,000.
3. Lower middle class (32%). Semi-professionals and craftsmen with some work autonomy; household incomes commonly range from $35,000 to $75,000. Typically some college education.
4. Working class (32%). Clerical, pink- and blue collar workers with often low income security; common household income range from $16,000 to $30,000. High school education.
5. Lower class (14 to 20%). Those who occupy poorly paid positions or rely on government subsidies. Some high school education. The percentage is much higher today.
The dollar figures obviously would have change some since the 2005 study, although the categories may well be quite similar.
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, “While the instability of individual male workers’ earnings rose sharply between the 1970s and 1980s, it has been more or less stable since then, “trending up and down with the business cycle through the 1980s and 1990s, and rising again in the early 2000s.” This “clear trend from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, and an upswing in the early 2000s—has been “confirmed by numerous analyses,” the Institute said, including a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
“Contrary to assertions in the popular press,” added the Institute, “women’s increased workforce participation has not been a major factor contributing to the rise in family income volatility.” In short, “the stabilizing influence on family income of the decrease in female earnings instability is overwhelmed by the rise in men’s earnings instability.”
Household dollar figures often don’t reflect class status and standard of living. They are largely influenced by the number of income earners and fail to recognize household size. It’s quite possible for a husband and wife in a lower working class household to out-earn a one-earner upper middle class household. A fireman married to a teacher might earn well over $100,000, making it difficult for politicians who say they are out to aid the so-called 99 percent.
A middle class small business owner may earn much more than $250,000, but also has large expenses in inventory and cost of employees hired.
Many look aghast at the cultural values depicted on television, in motion picture and music industries, and on the Internet aimed at, and seemingly soaked up by, the middle class.
Our founding fathers believed, however, that it was not the role of politicians or government to try to change public behavior. Rather, our Constitution was drafted on the premise that virtue had to come from citizens themselves, typically acting through private citizen bodies, such as the family, church, community and voluntary organizations.
The middle class and working class—frequently one and the same—are the foundations of American society. They will inevitably decide the issues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, without much help from politicians.
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