Middle-Class America by the Numbers

By Mitch Boersma Published on March 16, 2015

In the past year or so, politicians on both sides of the aisle have started talking more and more about the middle-class. One reason why: it’s a shortcut to quickly identifying with the nearly 90% of Americans who self-identify as being part of it.

This and other observations about American opinions on the middle-class are contained in the poll compilation report released this month by the political team at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Here are a few of the more interesting insights:

Satisfaction for Me but not for Thee

The overwhelming majority of those who self-identify as middle-class are satisfied or very satisfied with the major aspects of their lives (Family life – 93%; Housing situation – 90%; Education – 89%; Financial situation – 72%). And yet, when asked about the state of the middle-class over the last decade, a full 70% say the middle-class is worse off than it was ten years ago.

Why the disconnect?   Why do middle-class Americans think that most of their neighbors are worse off even while they themselves are quite satisfied?

Tough to tell, but the constant refrain from politicians and the chattering class that middle-class America is in a crisis — and can only be saved if we pass this law or enact that new government program — probably plays some part.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The number one thing Americans say they need to be considered part of the middle-class is a secure job, with nearly nine-in-ten giving that response. The ability to keep up with expenses and stay out of debt are also identified as defining characteristics of the middle-class.

So it should come as no surprise that when asked which individual or group are most responsible for making things better for middle-class America, local business ranked at the top of the list. The group most often identified for making things worse: Congress.

Playing Favorites

Opinions on which political party does a better job helping the poor remain essentially unchanged stretching back to 1990. But, in recent years, there has been a significant shift of opinion about the particular policies of the Obama administration.

In 2009, 40% of respondents felt the policies of the administration treated everyone equally, with only 12% thinking they favored the rich. By the end of 2013, the latter group had nearly doubled (23%), and only 26% still believed Obama’s policies didn’t play favorites. And the group least likely thought to be favored: the middle-class.

Read the whole report here.

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