Defining ‘Middle Class’
Dave Schuler, commenting on last night’s Democratic debate, observes:
Sens. Clinton and Obama used different definitions of “the middle class” in answer to Charlie Gibson’s attempt to extract from them a “no new taxes” on the middle class from them. Hillary Clinton defined the middle class as families earning an income lower than $250,000, a definition with which I’d agree. Basically, that’s all but the top 1% of income earners. Sen. Obama’s definition was families earning an income below $75,000. I think that’s an extremely narrow definition. It doesn’t even include all of the fourth quintile who to me are obviously middle class.
If by middle class, you mean “those in the middle three quintiles,” then Obama’s definition is probably closest. If, though, you mean “not poor but not rich, either,” then Clinton’s measure is closer.
(2007 Census Bureau Figures)
It might seem absurd to include much of the fifth quintile in the definition of middle class. After all, they’re certainly not actually in the middle. But a family making $75,000 is barely making ends meet in some of our major metropolitan areas. If “middle class” means you’re working for a living, live on a budget, have to think about making major purchases, and such, then $75,000 certainly qualifies.
Now, $250,000 is probably stretching it. Even in Manhattan, LA, Boston, and DC, you’re living pretty nicely on a quarter mil. But you’re probably just upper middle class. That is, you don’t have servants, a yacht, and a Ferrari even at that income level.
Virtually none of Dave commenters agree, interestingly. Most likely, that’s because most people probably define rich as those making substantially more than they do.