Many people who self-identify as middle class think of themselves as lower or upper middle class, yet this would classify nearly all Americans as middle class. Researchers often use other concepts to define the term: the middle 60 percent of the income distribution and earning thresholds, such as 75 to 200 percent of median income. This Perspective describes how, under these definitions, the U.S. middle class has been either receiving less income (as a share of total) or shrinking in size (proportion of the population) since the 1970s and is now smaller than middle-class populations in comparable countries. Another point of concern is research showing an increasing likelihood that lower-income Americans and their children will remain stuck outside the middle class with limited opportunities for upward mobility.
Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted within the RAND Lowy Family Middle-Class Pathways Center with RAND Education and Labor.
This commentary is part of the RAND Corporation Expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.
This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit www.rand.org/pubs/permissions.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.