With the election season gearing up again, we thought it would be a good time to talk about money. I know it’s taboo to talk about how much money you make. However, you know you’ll hear the terms “rich, working class, and middle class” over and over again in political ads and debates, and its important to understand what they mean.
Today, roughly 46.7 million people are “working class” (or “poor”). That is they live at or below the poverty line. For a family of 4, living below the poverty line means the household income is $24,008 or less.
What about being middle class? How much do you need to make to consider yourself “middle class”. Here, the definition is a little less clear, but generally, being middle class means your household makes between 2/3rds and double the median household income in America.
As of 2016, that means a three-person household would be middle class if the household earned between $45,000 to $135,000. If you’re single, an annual income of between $26,000 to $78,000 qualifies you as middle-income.
To me, such a wide range seems to be unfair. I mean the lifestyle of a single person on a $78,000 income is going to be very different than a person living on $26,000. Would the differences in living conditions be so much that maybe we shouldn’t classify both as “middle class”?
It seems that a misclassification is already occurring. In a 2018 study, nearly 70% of respondents said they consider themselves “middle class”, while in reality, only about 50% of them were actually in the “middle class”. One of the primary reasons for the discrepancy was the different ways people categorized “middle class.” For example, nearly 50% of respondents said that an individual had to make between $50,000 and $99,999 to be considered middle-class. 20% said that middle class referred to those making between $100,000 to $499,999.
According to a 2016 Pew Research study, for an individual to be considered “upper class” or “rich”, a single person would have to make at least $78,281; a couple $110,706, a three person family, $135,586, and a family of four, $156,561.
Again, there are no hard and fast rules for what it means to be “middle class” or “upper class”. Does it mean you can drive a new car? Does it mean you can have two cars? Does it mean you have cable or satellite TV? Does it mean you can send your kids to private school?
These questions are of course mostly rhetorical. Mostly.
What I do know is that there are people on the fringes of the middle class who will vote against their best interests. It happened in 2016, and it will certainly happen again in 2020.
To help you get an idea of where you may fall on the | working class | middle class | upper class | spectrum, here’s a couple lists about the income disparities in America.
Per Capita Income
Per capita income is a measurement often used in calculating demographics in America. It represents the average income per person in a given area. Data taken from the US Dept. of Commerce.
|State||Per Capita Income|
|District of Columbia||$ 81,882|
|New York||$ 68,667|
|New Jersey||$ 67,609|
|New Hampshire||$ 61,405|
|Rhode Island||$ 54,523|
|North Dakota||$ 54,306|
|United States||$ 53,712|
|South Dakota||$ 50,141|
|North Carolina||$ 45,834|
|South Carolina||$ 42,736|
|New Mexico||$ 41,198|
|West Virginia||$ 40,578|
Median Household Income (as of 2017, per the US Census Bureau)
|United States||$ 61,372|
|New Hampshire||$ 74,801|
|New Jersey||$ 72,997|
|New Mexico||$ 47,855|
|New York||$ 62,447|
|North Carolina||$ 50,343|
|North Dakota||$ 59,886|
|Rhode Island||$ 66,390|
|South Carolina||$ 54,971|
|South Dakota||$ 56,894|
|West Virginia||$ 45,392|