The National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein has written up his publication’s detailed survey of the American middle class.
Here some major findings:
- We’re middle class--almost two-thirds of households earning between $50,000 and $100,000, just under 45% of households earning $30,000 to $50,000, and an equal share of those over $100,000 all identify as middle class.
- Upward mobility--nearly three-fourths of minorities believe they will rise; whites, by contrast, are split 50-50, with little difference between those with or without a college degree.
- Downward mobility--59% of respondents voiced concern “about falling out of [their] current economic class over the next few years,” with 28% “very” concerned; 64% of minorities expressed anxiety along with 57% of whites, half of adults under 40, 72% among those in their 40s, 65% in their 50s, and a high 76% of over-40 workers without a college degree, with 45% of those “very concerned.”
- Why fall--52% fear losing their job or other source of income.
- Bleak view--almost eight times as many felt more Americans recently had “fallen out of the middle class because of the economy” than had “earned or worked their way into the middle class.”
- “Middle class” means--security (“having the ability to keep up with expenses and hold a steady job while not falling behind or taking on too much debt”--54%) more than advancement (“having the opportunity for financial and professional growth, buying a home, and saving and investing for the future”--43%).
- Importance of education--to stay in or reach the middle class, half said it’s best to help people attain “a higher level of education,” but just 21% felt it was “very realistic” that they could save enough to pay for their children’s college education; nearly twice as many thought it wasn’t; 49% said it was a realistic goal for “only the upper class.”
- Living on the edge--fewer than a fifth of middle-class Americans ages 40 to 59 said it was “very realistic” they could save enough for retirement; fewer than half of full-time workers said it’s “very realistic” that they’ll enjoy job security.
- What they want--38% want government “making higher education more affordable and accessible;” 40% want business “hiring more people and paying higher wages and better benefits.”
- Unhappiness with Obama--Just 40% said the president’s policies “helped to avoid an even worse economic crisis and are fueling economic recovery,” while 47% felt his policies had “run up a record federal deficit while failing to significantly improve the economy.” Three-fifths of nonwhites were positive; 55% of whites were negative.
- Who is helping?--49% said “business owners in your area” were making things better; only 16% said businesses were making things worse.
- Who’s to blame?--54% fault “elected officials making the wrong policy decisions,” way over the 17% who blamed “the economic impact of technology and globalization.”
Our middle class, though deeply concerned, is more optimistic. It believes in education, only worrying it cannot afford college for their children. The middle class wants jobs, and it wants the security of knowing jobs will be available. It likes small businesses that generate jobs. And the middle class is upset--rightly so, I would say--about “elected officials” who can’t seem to make the economy work.
Who is right, the scholar or the masses?