Society

Study: U.S. Middle Class Has Shrunk Over 2 Decades

| by Lauren Briggs

A new study has found that America's middle class is shrinking, and faring far worse by many measures than it was 20 years ago, especially when compared to the general prosperity of its Western European counterparts.

Findings from a new Pew Research Center study released April 24 suggest that the middle class is thinning out, while both the upper and lower classes have expanded. 

"It's a clear trend that the middle class in the U.S. is shrinking and not keeping up financially with the upper-income group," Pew's Associate Research Director Rakesh Kochhar said, according to The New York Times. "There is an aura of redistribution of income from middle income to upper income."

In 2010, 59 percent of adults were considered middle-income, compared to 62 percent in 1991, found the study. Though Pew only examined income up to 2010 -- a period when Americans were still struggling from the recession -- Kochhar said that the trend is clear, regardless.

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"Compared with the Western European experience, the adult population in the U.S. is more economically divided," Kochhar explained. "It is more hollowed out in the middle. This speaks to the higher level of income inequality in the United States."

Indeed, a Gallup poll from 2016 found that, at the time, 58 percent of Americans identified as middle or upper-middle class, which shot up 7 percent from the previous year, as people continued to recover from the recession.

David Autor, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that a shrinking middle class can only be healthy if the lower class is not proportionately growing, according the The Times. The study found that the lower class increased by one percent, while the upper class grew by two percent.

Over the 1991-2010 period, Europe's middle class saw comparatively vast improvements to their incomes, with those individuals in Denmark making a median of 25 percent more money and those in Britain making 35 percent more. In the U.S., the median income for the middle class rose 9 percent, while America had a smaller percentage of those in the middle compared to all of the 11 Western European countries involved in the study.

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Even so, the U.S. still has a higher median income than the vast majority of European countries.

"Financially, the U.S. remains well ahead of the countries in Europe," Kochhar explained. "The difference is how incomes have evolved, and they are catching up."

Sources: Pew Research, The New York Times, Gallup / Photo Credit: Pexels

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