Defining the Middle Class


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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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  • Do-nothing Reid, Do-nothing Senate, Do-nothing Dems

    The blame certainly lies at the feet of Obama, but also at the feet of Sen. Harry Reid.

    16+ jobs bill to stimulate the economy have been sent over by the House of Reps. What does Reid do with them? He tables them. No up-or-down vote, no debate, no amendments. No-nothing. Reid tried to do this when the two major bills converged in the Senate yesterday until McConnell thwarted him.

    No-nothingism is Reid’s calling card. No bill produced by House Repubs, even if they have crossover Dem support mus survive without Reid saying first that they won’t help the economy, and thus unbending Repubs must meet Dems half-way. This way, Obama and Democrats avoid giving Repubs any credit for helping the economy. A recent column in the Washington Post called all of this Reid’s tactic of no-nothingism. Table House bills. No debate, no up-or-down vote. No-nothing.

    This is all carefully crafted so that Obama can run against a so-called do-nothing Congress. But it is actually a do-nothing Democratic Senate, led by a do-nothing Reid. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) even said that it was a disgrace that Senate Democrats (Reid) had not passed a budget in over two years. Again, do-nothing.

    And Manchin isn’t the issue, Reid is.

    Reid: do-nothing, no-nothing.

  • StephenD

    “Tens of millions of once secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, waiting as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pick slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff,”

    Well, to be honest, I am more concerned that more of my paycheck will be taken to give to those that haven’t earned it.

    We always hear the cry for support of “the middle class” and I ask what middle class should I support the one you want to take more from or the one wanting to be given more? The public union fights came down to just this very issue. Look at Wisconsin whose Governor asked for a small % contribution from the public unions into their benefits program. You would think by the backlash he asked them to sacrifice their first born. If they don’t kick in…we do! How much to you kick in to your benefits? Now, pay for theirs! This B.S. has to stop. The end result is folks that earn it will eventually stop and then forced labor will be the only solution. Don’t take my word for it…look at history. Wherever Socialism/Communism was imposed the end result was/is slavery.

    • Dennis X

      Incorrect, the unions in Wisconsin had no problem with an increase to thier pensions, medical etc. The isuse was curtailing the unions ability to bargain in the future.

      • StephenD

        Even if what you say is correct, what about the rest of the story? Who am I to support, the ones demanding more or the ones that have to provide it?