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What is considered middle class?

ksinger

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There is no agreed upon definition for "middle class" anymore. And you see that in this thread with all the intense discussion of income levels and virtually no discussion of class. The definition of middle class originally had a large component of class in it. All the definitions of American classes did. We were a bit more honest about classes when the labels were coined. But we still have them and everyone knows it, even as we scream that we are (or are nearly) a classless society.

The class bit always had components of not just income, but different values. Working class was a population of blue color workers, particularly skilled and semi skilled, who differed in values but not necessarily income, from the middle class. Blue collar term is often associated with conservative values. So, you could work the line at GM and make the same as a manager or accountant somewhere, but you were still labled blue collar "working class", which was not the same as white collar "middle class".

Middle class, often called "white collar", was concerned with social respectability, material wealth, emphasis on the family, and education. They were those who were shared particular social views and who were more prosperous than the poor and less wealthy than the upper classes.

The interesting bit nowadays, is that no one wants to be considered working class or blue collar, because those are considered by many to be derogatory undesirable labels. The same goes for upper class or rich, because to be called rich is often to be hated. So EVERYBODY jostles for position in the MIDDLE. You get out of the perceived gutter if you're still hand to mouth, and if you're doing well, without being hated for having SO much more than everyone else.

So it's all about income now, and to judge from the insane range of incomes demanding the label of middle, it's pretty meaningless.
 

nala

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The UC system and i think Cal state has a middle class scholarship. You can always go by that definition. Lol. If your income exceeds 80k annually, your child no longer qualifies for free tuition but may qualify for some assistance. This is for California and does not reflect whether you live in the Bay Area or Barstow.
 

Miss Marple

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In my observation (having moved through both income and education ranks) "middle class" for any given individual seems to mean "approximately the same SES as my neighbors".
 

Maria D

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There is no agreed upon definition for "middle class" anymore. And you see that in this thread with all the intense discussion of income levels and virtually no discussion of class. The definition of middle class originally had a large component of class in it. All the definitions of American classes did. We were a bit more honest about classes when the labels were coined. But we still have them and everyone knows it, even as we scream that we are (or are nearly) a classless society.

The class bit always had components of not just income, but different values. Working class was a population of blue color workers, particularly skilled and semi skilled, who differed in values but not necessarily income, from the middle class. Blue collar term is often associated with conservative values. So, you could work the line at GM and make the same as a manager or accountant somewhere, but you were still labled blue collar "working class", which was not the same as white collar "middle class".

Middle class, often called "white collar", was concerned with social respectability, material wealth, emphasis on the family, and education. They were those who were shared particular social views and who were more prosperous than the poor and less wealthy than the upper classes.

The interesting bit nowadays, is that no one wants to be considered working class or blue collar, because those are considered by many to be derogatory undesirable labels. The same goes for upper class or rich, because to be called rich is often to be hated. So EVERYBODY jostles for position in the MIDDLE. You get out of the perceived gutter if you're still hand to mouth, and if you're doing well, without being hated for having SO much more than everyone else.

So it's all about income now, and to judge from the insane range of incomes demanding the label of middle, it's pretty meaningless.
Have you ever read "Class" by Paul Fussell? An oldie but goodie... The middle class is the one he writes about with derision. Overly concerned with appearances and continually striving to appear higher but missing the mark because they don't truly understand the markers.
 

GliderPoss

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I agree it's more than money that defines your class - geography, education, tradition and culture contribute a lot to what may determine as "middle class" somewhere...
 

diamondseeker2006

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diamondseeker2006

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One thing I have to add is that we were frugal and never bought things on credit other than a house. I see more young people today getting into debt for cars, eating out more often, going on weekend trips, etc., rather than socking away the max in their 401k, college savings, etc. Many young people today have these huge college loans that virtually did not exist in the past. Either your parents could afford to pay for your college, or you worked your way through college. I think the huge debt that many kids graduate with today is a HUGE mistake and they do not realize the burden that will cause them. Yes, it makes sense for medical doctors and other people who have certain high incomes. It makes little sense to have $100k in debt if you have a much lower paying occupation.

I will say that I think our children will not have the income or savings that we had. And a lot of that is choice of occupation, and the other part is that I think they spend more and save less than we did.
 

ksinger

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Have you ever read "Class" by Paul Fussell? An oldie but goodie... The middle class is the one he writes about with derision. Overly concerned with appearances and continually striving to appear higher but missing the mark because they don't truly understand the markers.
Nope, but it was ordered about 30 seconds after I mentioned it to my husband. It will no doubt go well with our copy of "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America" by Nancy Isenberg. :)
 

bludiva

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I feel like the class element used to be more present and it's kind of lost now in the US except for in some subcultures. Generally, money and the economy seem to define things (for better or worse) and discussions of "class" are usually discussions of income tiers.

I want to check out some of the books mentioned but I am guessing I'll find them frustrating or depressing.

I think of it like:
Poverty - genuinely need help to get by
Low income / working class - paycheck to paycheck
Middle class - able to save / invest but need to keep working
Wealthy - don't need to work

The term upper class to me has a connotation of inherited wealth for some reason.

I grew up working class and now am in the middle category and you wouldn't believe how hard it was to make that happen. I have relatives I mentioned in another thread that levered up from working class to wealthy in one generation and they did immoral things to get there. I hope that's not the norm but I mention it just to illustrate that income mobility in the US is more limited than people may realize.
 

clumberlove

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One thing I have to add is that we were frugal and never bought things on credit other than a house. I see more young people today getting into debt for cars, eating out more often, going on weekend trips, etc., rather than socking away the max in their 401k, college savings, etc. Many young people today have these huge college loans that virtually did not exist in the past. Either your parents could afford to pay for your college, or you worked your way through college. I think the huge debt that many kids graduate with today is a HUGE mistake and they do not realize the burden that will cause them. Yes, it makes sense for medical doctors and other people who have certain high incomes. It makes little sense to have $100k in debt if you have a much lower paying occupation.

I will say that I think our children will not have the income or savings that we had. And a lot of that is choice of occupation, and the other part is that I think they spend more and save less than we did.
I think it is a little unfair to place all the blame on the younger generation. The cost of college tuition has increased massively in comparison to wages. It is unrealistic to think that most people can work their way through college unless they are at community college. Even a full time minimum wage job won't cover tuition. I mean full time all year, not holiday work.

At the same time many employers now require a degree for entry level positions that previously would have only required a high school diploma. This forces one to get a degree just to get started in the job market. Working your way up is not an option in many industries because you have to get your foot in the door first.

Then there is the huge property bubble that has increased housing costs to the point that rent can be 70% of take home pay, so saving is incredibly difficult, let alone enough to put a deposit on a house. My mum bought her first house in the early 1980s and it cost 3 times her annual salary. We bought our first house in the 2010s and it cost 7 times my annual salary, for a comparative property.

Of course, I agree that college loan debt and car loans are not ideal, but the reality is that the costs of "frivolous" things like electronics and holidays are much lower in relative terms than they used to be, but the basic cost of living is much higher. It's hardly surprising that younger people spend their remaining money on fun rather than just saving it - for what? Property many of them will never afford?
 

bludiva

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I think to your point @clumberlove those forces are colliding - things being more out of reach and therefore a feeling of *&^% it, might as well get that chanel bag or get my nails done every week or have that fancy brunch or put that mod on my car...

I hate to say it but I don't think the education system is going to change until a large enough group of students boycott going to college, taking out loans with crappy terms, buying overpriced books, etc - large enough to hit the companies/institutions that take advantage of students in the P&L. 2008 should have been a wake up call to reform home financing too but I saw 0% down loans again just a few years later. :/
 

cmd2014

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I think it is a little unfair to place all the blame on the younger generation. The cost of college tuition has increased massively in comparison to wages. It is unrealistic to think that most people can work their way through college unless they are at community college. Even a full time minimum wage job won't cover tuition. I mean full time all year, not holiday work.

At the same time many employers now require a degree for entry level positions that previously would have only required a high school diploma. This forces one to get a degree just to get started in the job market. Working your way up is not an option in many industries because you have to get your foot in the door first.

Then there is the huge property bubble that has increased housing costs to the point that rent can be 70% of take-home pay, so saving is incredibly difficult, let alone enough to put a deposit on a house. My mum bought her first house in the early 1980s and it cost 3 times her annual salary. We bought our first house in the 2010s and it cost 7 times my annual salary, for a comparative property.

Of course, I agree that college loan debt and car loans are not ideal, but the reality is that the costs of "frivolous" things like electronics and holidays are much lower in relative terms than they used to be, but the basic cost of living is much higher. It's hardly surprising that younger people spend their remaining money on fun rather than just saving it - for what? Property many of them will never afford?
I agree with you. My parents generation did not need a university degree to be solidly upper middle class. They could get a good entry level job out of high school that would pay enough for themselves and their family to live on, and work their way up. None of my aunts or uncles have university degrees, and yet they were bankers, managers, executives in companies, nurses (with a 2 year nursing degree that was paid for - room and board and all - by the work that was done as part of the training), and even teachers (with no university degree, but a 2 year ‘teacher’s college’ that was run as an apprenticeship model). Even the trades required much less education than is required now. The apprenticeship model used to be the norm - where you learned as you worked and you eventually earned your papers while getting paid the whole time - or you didn't need papers to work. Now you need to go to community college for a 2 - 4 year certificate depending on the trade. My parents generation could live on a single income and bought everything but their house with cash. We struggle on two incomes and have never in our lives been able to buy a car or any other large purchase in cash. House prices used to be 2 - 3 years salary; now they are 7 - 10 (my in-laws bought their house for $15K and paid it off in 5 years - at a time when that was a year's salary; that same house now is $300K when salaries for the type of education that my in-laws have are currently in the $20 - $30K range). My husband and I are both professionals and we will never see the standard of living that my parents have in retirement based on what my father was able to earn with a high school education. Neither of us will have pensions either (my father's pension is 50% of his highest 5 years of earning for the rest of his life) - so an enormous chunk of what we earn has to go into retirement savings.

My parents like to suggest to us too that we spend too much. But our mortgage is a significantly higher percentage of our income (and no, we didn't by an overly fancy house), we both had student loans because no-one can pay for tuition and books on the minimum wage jobs that you are lucky to get while putting yourself through school, a huge chunk of our income goes to planning for retirement, and we really do need 2 cars in a city without good public transportation when both of us work. Yes, we do eat out more because one of us cannot afford to stay at home and cook and do laundry and clean, and when we both get home at 8pm most nights and both of us often work weekends, sometimes there's nothing in the fridge to eat. We also don't pack lunches every single day for the same reason. Our work lives are harder too; my parents generation worked from 9 - 5 Monday to Friday even in executive jobs (seriously, my dad was never home later than 6 in his entire career), with secretaries and admin assistants who ran their lives. Seriously, my father's secretary booked all of his doctors appointments and bought all my mother`s gifts for years. My husband and I work 12 - 16 hour days, work at least a portion of most weekends, and even in executive positions admin support is virtually non-existent.

So I think it's hard to suggest that the problem is that we are spendy and don't save enough and that this is why we have less savings than the boomers. Or that we make bad choices in terms of occupation - because honestly if you don't have some form of post-secondary education (either a university degree or formal training in a trade), there's not much out there for you job wise anymore except for minimum wage jobs that will never let you live the kind of lifestyle that @diamondseeker described. Even doctors are coming out of school now with $250 - $500K in student loans, and the salaries are not keeping up to be able to pay that off. There are lots of discussions in my professional meetings about whether our graduating students will ever be able to buy a house given the student loan debt to earning potential ratio, and what, if anything can be done about it.

Plus, us lucky Gen X’ers graduated university into a recession in an era when boomers decided that retirement wasn't cool (because they still felt young and hip and vital and wanted to keep working), so both entry level jobs and upward mobility have been hard to come by. There are still boomers working into their 70's and beyond in my profession who refuse to retire and make way for new hires (and some university profs are still working in their 80's and beyond). They scream age discrimination if you dare suggest it. So my generation is now in our 50s and we are still not able to move into the positions that boomers were getting in their 30s.

So I think there are lots of factors that contribute to the younger generations being less financially well off than the older ones, and very little of it is really about our spending habits or choices.
 

Alex T

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I have to disagree here. We did it and are comfortable.
Us too. Although I work part time at my children’s school now (& earn pocket money peanuts for the great pleasure it gives me), we lived on my husbands salary alone for the 7 years the girls were little, and still do really. We still had a nice life & lots of good family holidays. One paycheck is do-able if the employment is good - we have no mortgage or debt. My pocket money peanuts gets us an extra 2 weeks away somewhere exotic each year, but that’s enough for me to feel like I am contributing financially to our household.
 

LJsapphire

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Family able to survive comfortably on one paycheck.
It does not exist any more.
We are in the uk and live in a relatively cheap area but have been living on my pay alone for 2 years. Still comfortable but I’m hoping he gets a job soon (feeling the pressure of being the sole earner)
 

Alex T

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We are in the uk and live in a relatively cheap area but have been living on my pay alone for 2 years. Still comfortable but I’m hoping he gets a job soon (feeling the pressure of being the sole earner)
UK here! :wavey: Where you live in any country makes such a difference. It’s depressing. We live in Cheshire in a very lovely, quiet farming village that I wouldn’t swap for the world. But we paid the same for our 4 bed home with relatively decent sized gardens here, as my brother in law paid for his six bed home on 2 acres of land in Somerset. Gutted!
 

Tekate

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Where is the millionaire thread? I would love to read that!

As to middle class, I think it's nebulous, I guess I would say it's the median income in America for me, not sure what it is. Being middle class may be a state of mind also, I think of it as a family that is happy with what they have, if they want they can buy and item and not be pinched, can eat out once in a while, buy bling on occasion... but YMMV.

:)
 

cmd2014

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I suspect where you live greatly determines the sustainability of living on a single income. Not just what country you live in, but where in the country. No one I know is able to do it here. To make it work you’d need to move an hour or more outside of the city and commute in. Not a great option given our winters.
 

voce

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pinklemonadegurl

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I'm a single mom of five. Married, we had grown into upper middle. Divorced and with three kids under my roof with me(one has special needs), I am middle class, but slipping....Medical expenses and the cost of FOOD for three growing-ish kids-wow. We are absolutely blessed with a safe and comfortable lifestyle but my financial security was completely stripped away in my divorce. Scary, but one must keep going....
 
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