More Americans see middle class status slipping

Experts: Rise in those who feel they've slipped below the middle class suggests something "deeply rooted," as people are generally slow to acknowledge downward mobility
Associated Press
Apr 3, 2014

A sense of belonging to the middle class occupies a cherished place in America. It conjures images of self-sufficient people with stable jobs and pleasant homes working toward prosperity.

Yet nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, more people are coming to the painful realization that they're no longer part of it.

They are former professionals now stocking shelves at grocery stores, retirees struggling with rising costs and people working part-time jobs but desperate for full-time pay. Such setbacks have emerged in economic statistics for several years. Now they're affecting how Americans think of themselves.

Since 2008, the number of people who call themselves middle class has fallen by nearly a fifth, according to a survey in January by the Pew Research Center, from 53 percent to 44 percent. Forty percent now identify as either lower-middle or lower class compared with just 25 percent in February 2008.

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they're middle or upper-middle class fell 8 points between 2008 and 2012, to 55 percent.

And the most recent General Social Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, found that the vast proportion of Americans who call themselves middle or working class, though still high at 88 percent, is the lowest in the survey's 40-year history. It's fallen 4 percentage points since the recession began in 2007.

The trend reflects a widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else, one that's emerged gradually over decades and accelerated with the Great Recession. The difference between the income earned by the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans and by a median-income household has risen 24 percent in 30 years, according to the Census Bureau.

Whether or not people see themselves as middle class, there's no agreed-upon definition of the term. In part, it's a state of mind. Incomes or lifestyles that feel middle class in Kansas can feel far different in Connecticut. People with substantial incomes often identify as middle class if they live in urban centers with costly food, housing and transportation.

In any case, individuals and families who feel they've slipped from the middle class are likely to spend and borrow less. Such a pullback, in turn, squeezes the economy, which is fueled mainly by consumer spending.

"How they think is reflected in how they act," said Richard Morin, a senior editor at the Pew Research Center.

People are generally slow to acknowledge downward mobility. Many regard themselves as middle class even if their incomes fall well above or below the average. Experts say the rise in Americans who feel they've slipped below the middle class suggests something deeply rooted.

More people now think "it's harder to achieve" the American dream than thought so several decades ago, said Mark Rank, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Three years ago, Kristina Feldotte, 47, and her husband earned a combined $80,000. She considered herself solidly middle class. The couple and their four children regularly vacationed at a lake near their home in Saginaw, Michigan.

But in August 2012, Feldotte was laid off from her job as a special education teacher. She's since managed to find only part-time teaching work. Though her husband still works as a truck salesman, their income has sunk by more than half to $36,000.

"Now we're on the upper end of lower class," Feldotte said.

Americans' self-perception coincides with data documenting a shrinking middle class: The percentage of households with income within 50 percent of the median — one way to define a broad middle class — fell from 50 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010.

The Pew survey didn't ask respondents to specify their income. Still, Pew has found in the past that people who call themselves middle class generally fit the broad definitions that economists use.

Roughly 8.4 percent of respondents to the General Social Survey, last conducted in 2012, said they consider themselves lower class. That's the survey's highest percentage ever, up from 5.4 percent in 2006. NORC is a social science research organization at the University of Chicago.

Tom Smith, director of the survey, said even slight shifts are significant. Class self-identification "is traditionally one of the most stable measures" in the survey, he said.

By contrast to the most recent recession, the severe 1981-82 downturn had little effect on class self-identification in Smith's survey.

Why do so many no longer regard themselves as middle class? A key reason is that the recession eliminated 8.7 million jobs. A disproportionate number were middle-income positions. Those losses left what economists describe as a "hollowed out" workforce, with more higher- and lower-paying and fewer middle-income jobs.

Rob McGahen, 30, hasn't yet found a job that paid as well as the purchasing agent position at Boeing's defense division that he left in 2011. Nervous about the sustainability of that job because of government defense cuts, McGahen quit after buying a bar near his St. Louis home.

The bar eventually went bankrupt and cost him his house. He and his wife moved to Pensacola, Fla., where he's had little luck finding work in defense contracting.

Now, he works in the produce section of a supermarket. His wife earns the bulk of their income as a speech pathologist. Their household income has been cut in half, from $110,000 to $55,000, and he and his wife have put off having children.

"It's definitely been a step back," McGahen said.

Now living in an apartment, he misses the couple's three-bedroom house on a quiet cul-de-sac in a St. Louis suburb.

Home ownership is among factors economists cite as markers of middle-class status. Others include being able to vacation, help children pay for college and save for a secure retirement.

Yet stagnant middle-class pay, combined with steep price increases for college, health care and homes, have made those expenses harder to afford. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, hasn't budged since 1996, according to the Census Bureau. Average college tuition has soared 174 percent in that time.

Many of the formerly middle class are still struggling with student debt. McGahen, who has an MBA, estimates he'll be making $600 payments on student loans each month for the next decade. Feldotte, with two master's degrees, says she has "lots and lots of debt."

And she isn't prepared to help her children pay for college.

"There's no money to help them," she said.

Some people feel they've fallen out of the middle class even as their incomes have remained stable, because their costs have risen. One is Richard Timmerman, 66, a retired postal employee in River Falls, Wis.

He's been living off his pension since retiring five years ago. His wife, a sales manager at a hotel and conference center, hasn't had a raise in that time. The recession hammered the hotel's business, though it's slowly recovering.

Yet his cost of living has risen in the past decade or so. Gas prices have surged over that time. So has food. And only this year did the value of Timmerman's retirement savings regain its level of six years ago.

"I see my position in the social structure having gone down a notch," Timmerman said. He considers himself lower-middle class, compared with middle class a few years ago.

A slowly improving U.S. economy could lift some people back into the middle class. Still, the recession and slow recovery have left permanent scars.

McGahen and his wife are trying to rebuild their savings. They no longer have credit cards. Timmerman travels much less than he thought he would in retirement.

"I have really beat myself up a lot over the last 2½ years," McGahen said. "Until I get myself up and going again and in a good place ... it is tough."

Comments

holysee

Watch "INEQUALITY FOR ALL" on Netflix. This documentary explains concisely how we got to where the middle class is today. Doesn't matter if you're a teabagger or a flaming libtard this documentary simply documents the facts of the bridge curve that shows how the distribution of wealth has mirrored the downfall of the middle class. Production per worker has steadliy increased over the last 30 years while income has completly stagnated. Credit cards are what people turned to for supplemental when the income started to loose traction. Banks went to fee based business models. Remember when a bank 5% on a savings account? Ancient history for sure. A bank is likely to just dissovle a savings account over a period of time due to inactivity. I had that happen to an account that I ignored for a while. They took every last penny with "inactivity fess" because I hadn't used the account in over a year. Life is good when you are a corporate citizen called a "bank".

EdO's

The 1%'s with the aid of the gubmint stole the wealth of the middle class. Inflation, stock market and commodity manipulation, corporate giveaways, military industrial complex...
The middle class is waking up to the realization that they are broke and unless they're too doped up with prescription meds, booze or tv/internet, they should be coming after 'em with pitchforks for tar and feathering and confiscation of corporate assets.

Cheney - criminal
Kissinger - criminal
Clinton - criminal
Bush and Jr. - criminal
War on Terror - distraction
911 - Reichstag Fire
The official version that ‘terrorists’ had led the attack was soon questioned abroad. Today it is a fact that the Reichstagsbrand was deliberately used as a pretense and that the ‘empowerment laws’ following this event had been prepared in advance.

anthras

Re."Remember when a bank 5% on a savings account? Ancient history for sure."

Remember paying 8-10% interest on on a mortgage loan? I do not think the banks can now pay 5% interest when many mortgage loans are less than that.If they would get 4.5% interest on money loaned out they could not pay anyone 5% interest on their money deposited in a savings account.

Read an article stating that tax freedom day falls 111 days into 2014 for those that pay taxes. Americans will have made enough to pay $3trillion federal and $1.5 trillion in state taxes ergo more than they will spend on food clothing and housing combined. Of course the government needs the money some to use for the benefit of the people and some to waste and lose.

holysee

Now the American dream of college is a joke due to the student loan crisis which is yet another affront to the middle class. If you're poor and deserve to go academically, there is a good chance of getting a scholarship. If you're daddy is rich, no problem. If you're middle class, the banks would just love to tie you up with a tidy loan.
We would rather pump trillions into doomed wars in the desert than invest in the future of our people.
FACT.

jacksonbrowne

Some, and now maybe the majority, of today's college students use their school loan money on many things not even associated with college. Over the Christmas break while my daughter was home one of her college friends was with her. They were talking about going shopping and her friend said that she still had some of her student loan money leftover that she was going to use. I do not feel sorry for those who use that money for anything else but school.

KnuckleDragger

The dream of college is not a joke. There are many avenues to a college degree for a middle class student, with student loans only being one of them. There are scholarships if you have the grades. Many employers offer some sort of tuition reimbursement program. There are numerous volunteer programs at the state and federal level that will pay your tuition if you sign a contract that you will work for them for a certain period of time after graduation. There is also the military where you can pursue a degree while serving and they pick up 100% of the tuition. You can also sign up for the GI Bill and it will pay for a college education. I completed an undergraduate degree while serving on active duty in the military and didn't owe a penny in student loans. Since I've left the military I obtained a graduate degree with the GI Bill, again without accruing any debt. You see there are ways to pay for college without mortgaging your future if you are willing to put out the effort to find them. As far as the bank tying people up with debt, that's hog wash!!! Out of nearly $1 trillion in student loans, about 8% represent privately funded student loans (banks). The rest are held by the Department of Education (federal government). The largest percentage of loan default is on loans administered by the federal government.

Also, keep in mind that if you have a federal student loan there is no way for you to get out from under it except to pay it off. A person cannot even dissolve the debt through bankruptcy. The gov. made sure they would get their money come he!! or high water.

The study I pulled my numbers from also indicated that the degrees that resulted in the highest default rates were liberal arts degrees. Maybe the government should decline funding a liberal arts degree since in todays marketplace it is not likely to help you find suitable employment.

2cents

I know a person that has had them self deemed mentally incompetent to get out of his after 20 years. You know they will forget about him and he will move on after he says he takes some meds and have a fresh start. Trust me these people will find ways not to pay!

From the Grave

The whole concept of "classes" and the so-called "American Dream" both are man made concepts which have become outdated, just like home land lines and long distance services. If we think it's wrong to judge other people by race or sexual preference(for lack of a better word), then why do we still feel the need to judge people(or ourselves)based on affluence?

?

From the Grave

To me, the American Dream should be to enjoy every part of your day, every day that you can.

Really are you ...

That's the way our government and the elite want it. Forced debt, elite vs poor, no middle class. How does the US make foreign countries do what they want? Besides war and the threat there of? By imposing sanctions. This is what the government elite want to bestow on the US civilian. Beg for relief because of the forced debt with no way out. It is easier to control people when they are down. When we do give in, the elite will want our freedom in return.

From the Grave

Our government does not give us freedom. Therefore, it can't take it away. That may be your perception, but that's all it is~your perception.
The essence of who you are is only limited by your own thoughts.

Really are you ...

As a US citizen we have certain unalienable rights which are being twisted or are trying to be taken away.

Take the Mr. Collins incident that just happened in Norwalk. Right or wrong, If there were no laws to be questioned. This would have been swept under the rug. Take the drone strikes in Pakistan that kill innocent people. The US maybe killing high level insurgents, with collateral damage. And there isn't anything that the Pakistani people can do but build hatred.

phroggy

Huh?

pntbutterandjelly

@ From the Grave: Wrong. Backwards. Ignorant. "but that's all it is~your perception" won't hold up if you can't even feed yourself, obtain health care on your death bed, afford a car, a roof over your head, education or as you sit in prison because you couldn't pay your taxes! "The essence of who you are" is far, far different than what the realities of today's America ALLOWS you to be. You must be saying that those who feel their economic positions are false perceptions.? You know better what their realities are.? Without the possibilities of upward economic mobility provides... all your own self-perceptions, intentions and desires are nothing more than daydreams and wishful thinking.

Once upon a time...the "American Dream" WAS possible. During those times I would have agreed with you but...not in today's America. Too many economic rungs have been severed for the vast majority to climb up with. Conversely...the Free Enterprise game is now a rigged and corrupt system of "he who has the most...gets more" and everyone else can eat their dust.

"The essence of "who" you are" is correct if indeed you are only referring to your thoughts but IS incorrect in regards to "what you want your life to be" which IS limited by reality (if you are a realist).

Stop It

Realism is different in every person even if things are equal in all factions of life. No body thinks the same as another in each and every way or circumstance. That being true, one could go way out on a limb and claim there is no such thing as reality.

Turn off the care and compassion part of yourself and see what is real.

From the Grave

Your reality is limited only by your thoughts and your perception.

Blaze

The cost of living and inflation is rising at an alarming rate and workers' raises are not even close to keeping up with it. If we keep going the way we are now there will no longer be a middle class.

Fromthe419

Blaze, you are correct. There in lies the rub...it's all about purchasing power, with the expansion of the money supply it takes more dollars to buy the same things it did just a few years ago. The hidden tax of inflation is what has killed the middle class, we take on more debt through credits cards and thus invest less of our income which hopefully will keep pace and beat inflation. The wealthiest are investing on a daily basis to beat inflation while the masses spend what they have just to feed themselves and keep a roof over their head. Until we get rid of the FED and get rid of our debt based monetary system the gap between the rich and poor will grow. This is a systemic problem geared toward those at the top of they pyramid. Just think if our government created money and loaned it to the banks rather than the FED creating money as debt to all of us. Instead of being 17.5T in the hole, we'd be 17.5T to the good. Want healthcare, no problem we could afford it, I would think this would be an idea all collectivists could get behind...end the FED and our debt based monetary system and you can't even imagine how much better our society can be. Money created for the good of the people instead of as debt of the people.

grumpy

You won't find that to be true if you look at gov't numbers. But... and it is a big but... the gov't doesn't gauge inflation and cost of living the same as it was counted in the past. GThe gov't doesn't count food or energy increases in either cost of living or inflation. They used to but both those things go up in prices before other things do and the gov't prefers to look at things in rose colored glasses, or want the sheepole to do so. They change the way those things are counted so that it is harder to compare thing from different decades. But thanks to the interwebs there are websites you can look up what the cost of living and inflation is by using the old way of counting it.

The current way to track inflation shows almost no inflation... but the old way shows inflation when you count energy (gas, electrc, and so forth). Same with cost of living. I wonder does gov't think food and energy aren't costs of living? This is your big federal gov't at work. You get the gov't you deserve when you vote the same people into office and expect them to do differently. Tis why I want more parties the the one we now have, dimopublicans or is it repubirats? We need to clean house of old fashioned thought and ways of doing things in gov't.

pntbutterandjelly

Of course more people feel their economic position is falling. That's because it is TRUE! With every passing day more money is being funneled into the hands of those who are in control. If you haven't been impacted yet...just give them time.

True Conservatives (not "Republicans") need to see where this country is headed. At the pace the wealthy are gorging themselves at ALL of our expenses ....it won't be too long before we are in the total grasp like Russia and their oligarchs now reign. "New World Order" is marching into our lives.

grumpy

At the height of his wealth, J.D. Rockefeller was worth $669 billion in 2007 dollars. The rich back then were MUCH more rich than now. Kind of goes against what you are claiming. Facts seem to be against your statements. Todays rich may be getting richer than they were 10-15 years ago, I would have to figure their wort in like year dollars and I really don't feel the need for me to do such a thing. I know the rich of the past were many times richer than those of today, The middle class had much less than today, same as the poor. The gap was hundreds, if not thousands of times bigger than it is today. But that is just facts and numbers, I am sure you don't feel that way.

Look up Rockefeller and the tycoons of his day in wiki and you will get their net worth in contemporary dollars if you want to verify the facts and numbers.

milemarkerzero

A lot of the middle class is falling below the comfort line. The lower income class is rising. Reasons for this are middle class pays for health insurance, the co-pay, and deductible. Lower class has welfare/medicade which the middle class is footing the bill for. Most hospitals write off the rest. Lower income has ObamaPhones for little to no cost. That includes more talk and text than most $60 plans have. The middle class gets the double whammy there. The lower class has food stamps, WIC, and some free school lunches. The middle class has seen their grocery bill double, and pays full boat for school lunches. The lower class are seen at the gas stations getting cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets, only to leave on a bicycle, or dilapidated car. The middle class pays $3-$4 dollars per gallon, and leaves in a vehicle that they probably owe twice of what its worth. I could go on and on. I am one of the middle class that has had salary cut in half over the last 6-8 years, and watched as my home lost near 20% of it's value. Just sayin!

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

An entire article about something which is never defined. They may as well have written something about "people don't feel like their stuff is good". It's sad to see a population with notions such as classification browbeaten into them. If you accept other people classifying you in such a way, then you accept a constant source of discord and open yourself up to endless, unnecessary worrying.

Here, this article does more to convey the point was trying to make:

"Nation Just Wants to Be Safe, Happy, Rich, Comfortable, Entertained at All Times."
http://www.theonion.com/video/na...

The Big Dog's back

The rich have classified people for a long time. Get over it.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Are you going to allow yourself to be classified by "a rich person"? Why? Don't you have more dignity than that?

But you are correct, we hear "the middle-class" all the time from Congress. As long as you accept them calling you that, they will hold power over you. The worst part is that none of them can even tell you the meaning of what they call you.

Resigning yourself to abuse by others doesn't make any kind of moral nor philosophical counterpoint to what I said. If you truly want a better life for people, I'll be happy to have you at my side as I strive to help achieve it.

grumpy

Anyone who uses the term "middle class" either won't give a definition of what it is. The most they will say is "if I have to tell you you wouldn't understand." Bet you can guess who on here said that gem when I pressured him to give a definition. Who never gives definitions of words he uses when asked?

The Big Dog's back

I gave the definition. You just refuse to accept it.

grumpy

So your definition of middle class is:

"if I have to tell you you wouldn't understand."

This is considered a definition in your so-called mind. This is the typical Obama voter and Progressive Democrat showing/demonstrating his intelligence.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

To be fair, he gets what he votes for. Many of the people in his party* (not indicating at all that Republicans are innocent of this) are very good at telling other people things without the need to support, define, or provide context to what they say. Though the question is if Big Dog is attracted to those types of people as a follower or if he is a leader that enables this behavior with his votes.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

But if he allows (and accepts) other people to call him names and classify him as something other than a sovereign human being, that would seem to indicate beta behavior. In which case he likes having other people tell him what to do, say, and think and in return for the security provided by someone else controlling him, he chooses to not question the source of his commands or information. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

Of course this is all conjecture, Big Dog I am sure can explain such things himself. Or he won't because, you know, you wouldn't understand. That was a joke.

*Party
President Barack "The Argument is Over" Obama
Senator Harry "This Bill is DOA in the Senate" Reid
Representative Nancy "Pass it to See What's in It" Pelosi

The above though is really cherry-picking the low-hanging fruit, but it is what it is. Any commentator here can feel free to add to this list or put on Republican names. But, it really is a pattern of behavior not confined to just Big Dog. If you look at how he and other party-first Democrats that post regularly here barely attempt to take the time to actually explain anything or ask critical-thinking questions.

So it must just be a personality type that the Democrat Party attracts? Hmm, speculations merely. Unfortunately there's not a large sample of overt Republicans here to compare against which indicates either the Republicans are in hiding (which at least Big Dog and others are brazen enough to label themselves...leading back to their acceptance of such practices above) or there really aren't a lot of elephants stalking the forums.

The most effort put into sourcing facts, making compelling philosophical points, countering points, asking questions, and actually putting effort into the discourse seem to be Independent/Third-Party types. But then, that would seem that our personalities are such that we are attracted to that...lifestyle? Respect for human dignity and critical thinking? Unfortunately it seems that many times this makes us "default Republicans" since there are barely any overt ones who will step up and bring another point of view to the discussion.

That's why I yearn for a literate, well-spoken, thoughtful "Democrat" (or "left-leaning" Independent) to start commenting in these forums regularly so folks like you or I can engage them in civil discourse and even be taught a thing or two. As it stands, I don't know if there is any such person.

Big Dog at least replies back frequently and I appreciate that since he makes honest efforts to get points across, as ham-handed and painfully partisan as they can be sometimes. I just wish...I just wish he could offer more. I want to know what HE thinks and why he thinks it. Not just regurgitate bumper stickers and call names.

It's a bittersweet situation, to me anyway.

grumpy

You have more patience than I do, or are more understanding. I tolerated the name calling for a few weeks when I first started posting here but after a few weeks I was tired of being called names and gave him one of my own. After a few weeks of that he rarely calls me names... but still rarely answers and rarely gives more than bumpersticker responses. The only times he uses more than three sentences is when he copies and pastes something that he never tells where he gets it from... and when I search it out is usually a left wingnut blog or an opinion piece... that he would complain if someone else would use an opinion piece or a biased right wing blog. You just have a higher tolerance than I do. I might have used up my tolerance on my kids, I do have more tolerance for my grandkid... I can give him back after I get him worked up though. I wish I could do the same with other people... give them back to someone who HAS to take them even if they just need a diaper change. (grin)

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