Five Myths About the Middle Class
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney say they’ll support it. Many Americans say they’re in it. And virtually everyone says something must be done to help it. It’s the American middle class, and it’s the biggest talking point of the 2012 election — and one of the most misunderstood.
1. Today’s middle-class Americans are worse off than their parents.
The standard of living for Americans in the broad middle of the income ladder — households with incomes higher than the bottom 20 percent and lower than the top 20 percent — hasn’t stagnated or worsened in the past generation. It has improved.
Analyzing data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a long-running survey of U.S. households, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project found that as of 2000-08, 86 percent of Americans who grew up in a middle-class household had a higher income (adjusted for inflation) than their parents. This share has surely decreased in the years since, but probably not by much: Median household income fell by just $1,500 between 2008 and 2010.
Moreover, income changes alone don’t capture the enhanced quality of life that stems from greater access to information and entertainment through personal computers, smartphones, the Internet and cable TV; advances in medical care such as MRIs and new surgical techniques; and more choices for all kinds of goods and services.