More People Struggle to Get By As Middle Class Continues to Shrink
For decades the middle class in America has been shrinking, and increasingly that means that families falling out of the middle class as job growth fails to keep up and wages remain stagnant. In a recent article, the News and Observer explores the challenges faced by families working hard to stay in the middle class. Tonight, Governor McCrory will talk a lot about the "Carolina Comeback." We hope he remembers that for most North Carolinians, a comeback is a long ways off.
In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, between $35,000 and $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to shrink, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets.
But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.
This social upheaval helps explain why the president focused on reviving the middle class, offering a raft of proposals squarely aimed at concerns like paying for a college education, taking parental leave, affording child care and buying a home.
“Middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change,” Obama told Congress and the public.
Still, regardless of their income, most Americans identify as middle class. The term itself is so amorphous that politicians often cite the group in introducing proposals to engender wide appeal.
The definition here starts at $35,000 – which is about 50 percent higher than the official poverty level for a family of four – and ends at the six-figure mark. Although many Americans in households making more than $100,000 consider themselves middle class, particularly those living in expensive regions like the Northeast and Pacific Coast, they have substantially more money than most people.
However the lines are drawn, it is clear that millions are struggling to hang on to accouterments that most experts consider essential to a middle-class life.
“I would consider middle class to be people who can live comfortably on what they earn, can pay their bills, can set aside something to save for retirement and for kids in college and can have vacations and entertainment,” said Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning research and advocacy group.
Lisa Land, 49, is one of those who has dropped through the hatch. She gets by on her father’s $1,300 monthly Social Security checks and by having her adult daughter pitch in for groceries.
Her circumstances are a stark change from just a few years ago, when she considered herself firmly in the middle class. Despite a relatively modest salary, her pay and other resources went a long way in tiny Eden, where she worked for 13 years in customer service at a textile factory.