Economy Now

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America's disappearing middle class

January 28, 2014: 6:00 AM ET

Fewer and fewer people are feeling middle class these days.

The share of Americans who describe themselves as middle class has taken a tumble, while the percentage who identify as lower class has soared over the past six years, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center/USA Today. The share of Americans who consider themselves upper class has also shrunk.

This downward shift is likely due to falling wages and the weak job market, said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project. The survey notes that median household income fell from $55,627 in 2007 to $51,017 in 2012, the most recent Census data available. And employment in middle-skill jobs increased only 46% between 1980 and 2009, compared to 110% for low-skill jobs, according to a New York Federal Reserve Bank analysis.

"Despite the economic recovery, the economic mood continues to head south," Kochhar said.

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The share of young folks age 18 to 29 who feel part of the lower class has nearly doubled in the past six years. This age group has been particularly hard hit by the Great Recession and still struggles with unemployment rates higher than the national average. The rate for those age 18 to 29 was 9.5% in December, compared to 6.5% among all adults. (These figures are non-seasonally adjusted.)

middle class young adult

College graduates have also seen a downward slide in their perceived social standing. While the share who feel they are in the middle class has stayed roughly the same, the percentage in the upper class shrunk, while the share in the lower class grew. This suggests that the rich felt they slid back into the middle class, and some in the middle felt they slipped down to the lower class.

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