American Middle Class: A Sliding Scale - Global Trade Magazine
  April 6th, 2015 | Written by

American Middle Class: A Sliding Scale

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  • Pew Charitable Trust finds each state has a different benchmark for middle class based on state median income.
  • Pew Charitable Trust: Those who make 67 to 200 percent of their state’s median income are middle class.
  • The top five states for median income are Maryland, Alaska, New Jersey, Hawaii, and District of Columbia.

For American entrepreneurs, manufacturers and business owners, the American middle class is what they pine for—that great reservoir of not just customers but the kind of skilled workers and managers that will make their products, manage their quality and market them to the rest of the American middle class. Which is why, in America, if you want to shoot for the top, you aim for the middle.

But the middle is a tricky thing in the States. It’s a measure of the flattening out aspect of democracy that most Americans think of themselves as middle class whether they live in a box or make the thing that went in the box. Americans, by and large, see themselves as that large swath that started and fought the Revolution, pay a majority of the taxes and form the bulwark of what it is to think, be and act as an American.

And that’s just it: though most people associate being middle class as holding middle class values, the designation is in fact an economic designation. Anyone who makes the right amount of money is middle class, it’s that simple.

Actually it’s not.

When the Pew Charitable Trust set about to find out what was the state of the American middle class this century, it came up against a complicating truth: there really isn’t an American class but, rather, 50 different American middle classes based on what state you live and what that state’s median income is. But it remains tricky after that, because there are also lower- and upper-middle-class citizens to consider. How to define them is a fluid thing. Pew did it by including those in each state who made from 67 to 200 percent of the median income based on numbers from the U.S. Census.

So, if you want to call yourself middle class in Maryland—the state with the highest median income; $72, 483—you’ll have to make at least $48,322, whereas you can claim (lower) middle class status in Mississippi—the state with the lowest median income; $37, 963—making just $25,309.

A couple more things: the top five states for median income are not necessarily the ones you’d expect, i.e. Texas, New York, California. They are, in descending order: Maryland ($72, 483), Alaska ($72,237), New Jersey ($70,165), Hawaii ($68,020), and District of Columbia ($65,572).

As for Pew’s findings, we leave you to cull that from the report’s title: “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class … Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.”