Americans are beginning to notice that being a part of the middle class is not all it’s cracked up to be. Perhaps Americans have been sold a utopian fallacy.
In “The Road to Wigan Pier,” author George Orwell said the middle class is struggling to stay afloat.
“We of the sinking middle class may sink without further struggles into the working class where we belong, and probably when we get there, it will not be so dreadful as we feared, for, after all, we have nothing to lose,” Orwell wrote.
The middle-class is sinking. Only 44 percent of Americans say that they identify as “middle-class,” according to a survey released by Pew Research Center. As recently as 2008, 53 percent of Americans considered themselves middle-class.
What has changed since then? The job market. Prior to the recession, which ended four and a half years ago, many middle-class workers were laid off from their jobs, causing the unemployment rate to rise. Post-recession, employers continue to face challenges but manage to ameliorate conditions. As of January, the unemployment rate is 6.6.
There are objective ways to defining middle class in America. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney defined middle class as a household income up to $250,000 while others find those figures nonsensical.
According to Pew Research Center, the median income for a nuclear household is $68,274. Depending on what region of the U.S. one lives in, the median may vary.
Businesses that target the “middle-class audience” are falling short. Stores such Loehmann’s are bankrupt and even closing. Casual-dining restaurants such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster are struggling while fine-dining restaurants are thriving. Middle class Americans aren’t spending money like they did before.
Most envision middle-class Americans to be white-collar workers, married with kids, living in the suburbs. The “white picket fence” may not always be included, but in reality, all middle class Americans don’t have white-collar jobs but instead have multiple jobs. Also, some middle-class Americans are divorced and don’t live in the suburbs, which can be rather expensive.
Does the definition for “middle class” vary from race to race? Does the standard for middle class differ for white Americans and African-Americans?
According to Demos.org, “If you average all income groups together, black median wealth is less than one-third of white median wealth.”
But not all experts agree. According to Richard Wilson, chair of the economics department and professional leadership Development of Florida A&M, the only color that matters is green.
“The categories for income are defined by income, not by race,” Wilson said. “The percentage of middle-class African-Americans is simply lower than Asians and Caucasians in America. The definition of middle class is the same for everyone.”