What is the middle class?
It’s not as easy to answer as it seems.
Let’s play a game. You guess what class you’re in, and tell us here:
We’re betting some of you weren’t. That’s because “middle class”(1) depends on a bunch of factors. Your household income, the number of people in your household, the cost of living in your area all count. It’s complicated.
Here’s the easiest definition, from The Pew Research Center: ““middle-income” Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median.”
So what the heck does that mean? Well, in the whole U.S. in 2014, that meant about $42,000 to $126,000 if there were three folks in your household. But if you’ve got more than one kiddo running around, you could have made even more than that and still been middle class. The money just doesn’t go as far when you’ve got more people to care for.
In North Carolina those numbers are a little lower, because the average median income is $7,000 lower than in the U.S. So you’re in the upper class at $120,000 if you live in Raleigh. But again, class is area-dependent; In Rocky Mount, you’re well into the upper class at $109,000 — in Goldsboro, $110,000.
So there we go. That’s the middle class, and it’s complicated.
Now: how are they doing? And how can we help them out?
(IMO, the easiest way to let hard-working North Carolinians of any class keep more of their money is to stop health benefit mandates, but we digress…for a few minutes at least.)
Top of the Class? Nope.
The American economy lives or dies on the strength of the middle class. If middle-class families have disposable income then they go to the movies, or spend a little extra on Christmas, or shop at the corner grocery store a few more times a week. If they don’t...well, then they don’t, and the entire economy suffers — from local businesses all the way up to national banks. The Great Recession is testament to what happens when the middle class is gutted, and it isn’t pretty.
Yes, the country is recovering from the Recession, and unemployment is down (finally). But no one seems to have told the middle class.
Middle-class median income was actually 4% less in 2014 than it was in 2000. Also, the middle class is declining in numbers. For the first time ever, they aren’t the majority of the country; the combined lower and upper classes outstrip them, with the upper class growing more quickly.
Basically, that means more of the economic recovery is benefitting the wealthy. The economic divide between classes is widening. And the middle class is being left behind.
Middle Class in NC
In North Carolina, the middle class is having a particularly hard time. According to the Pew Center again, there were seven communities in the entire United States that lost 20% or more of their median income between 2000 and 2014. More than half were in North Carolina.(3)
Let’s go back to Goldsboro, for instance. Middle-class adults in that area made up 60% of the population in 2000. But as of 2014 that number was down to 48%. Worse, those folks were getting poorer; the lower class increased from 27% to 41% in the same time period. (2)
So what can we do?
Lawmakers disagree about it. Democrats say:
- Bring back the earned-income tax credit.
- Increase the minimum wage.
- Cut taxes on the middle class to give them more income in their pocket to decide how best to spend it.
- Reduce government regulations on businesses to spur employers to invest in their business and employees.
Tomato, to-mah-to. Here’s what we know: lessening our healthcare cost burden can only help the middle class. Join us and raise your voice against the health insurance mandates that are driving up North Carolina’s health insurance premiums — and making life harder for millions of middle-class North Carolinians.
1. Class is about a lot of things – education, values, communities – but for the sake of simplicity we’ll define it as about the money. (In other words, “middle income.”)
2. See page 8.
3. See page 43.