A Handy Calculator to Figure Out If You’re Really Middle Class

There’s no official federal definition of the term, but the demographic is no longer the majority, according to the Pew Research Center.
(Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images)
Dec 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Minimum wage earners can’t afford the rent on market-rate apartments, college students increasingly rely on food banks, and child poverty rates are soaring. There are plenty of post–Great Recession signs that the middle class is still in serious trouble in the United States.

An analysis of government data released this week from the Pew Research Center reveals that in 2015, for the first time in more than 40 years, middle-income households stopped being the economic majority in America.

Pew’s researchers analyzed the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey from 1971 to 2015. “In early 2015, 120.8 million adults were in middle-income households, compared with 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined, a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point,” wrote the researchers

As the U.S. turns into an hourglass economy with extremes of wealth and poverty, The New York Times noticed last spring that the term “middle class” was conspicuously absent from political stump speeches. Candidates vying for a spot on the 2016 presidential election ballot have subtly shifted to terms such as “ordinary Americans” or “taxpayers.”

At the same time, surveys have found that U.S. residents tend to define themselves as middle class—after all, are you truly wealthy if you’re not a 1 percenter, and are you low-income if you’re not living in your car?

Economists and sociologists debate whether being middle class is based on income or lifestyle. After President Barack Obama was sworn into office in 2009, he decided to make good on his promise to bolster the fortunes of the demographic. In 2010, in its first annual report, the Obama-appointed White House Task Force on the Middle Class wrote that “no standard definition” of middle class exists.

That said, based on U.S. Commerce Department estimates, the task force wrote that a family of four with an income between $51,000 and $123,000 could be considered middle class. But the task force noted that being middle class is also aspirational. “Middle-class families aspire to home ownership, a car, college education for their children, health and retirement security, and occasional family vacations,” it wrote.

Pew based its analysis on a slightly different definition of middle class: two-thirds the national median income. Given that, according to Pew, a family of three with an income of $41,869 to $125,608 is middle class.

What if you have more or fewer kids, or make slightly more or less money—are you still middle class? Pew has created a calculator that will help you crunch the numbers, so you’ll know for sure. It also has a feature where you can see, depending on your age, gender, level of education, and race or ethnicity, how you fare economically compared with your peers.