Lost Decade for Shrinking Middle Class

The middle class has shrunk considerably over the past few decades. This decline has been greatly exacerbated by the recession and housing bust. The recession has left many middle class families feeling more pessimistic about their future.

By Conor Dougherty
August 22, 2012, 5:42 PM
Wall Street Journal

The middle class — defined as households with between two-thirds and double the nation’s median income — has shrunk considerably over the past few decades, a decline that has been greatly exacerbated by the recession and housing bust.

In 2011, the nation’s middle class income bracket held 51% of households, down from 61% in the 1970s, according to this report released today by the Pew Research Center. Over the same period, both the upper and lower income brackets have grown. Pew notes that while middle class incomes fell over the 2000s decade, the bigger hit was falling home and asset values. The median middle class income fell 5% over the decade, but total wealth — assets minus debt — fell 28%.

The recession has left many middle class families feeling more pessimistic about their future — only 23% said say they were very confident that they would have enough income and assets to last throughout retirement — and even eroded their faith in hard work. About two thirds middle class people believed most people who want to get ahead can do so if they work hard, down from 74% in a 1999 survey.

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