From the Tiller Money Memo, "How do you define 'middle-class?'"

The New York Times just published an interesting and important look at how four real middle-class families budget and spend their money.

As the authors note, “these stories help illustrate how a middle-class existence has fundamentally shifted over a generation.”

Of course, the financial health of America’s middle-class is highly politicized. But even after you sweep away politics, it’s clear that many families - even responsible, frugal, careful families - are stuck in survival mode. Many others are just one small accident from financial trouble.

It’s not all bad. Some items (like food) cost less now than in the past. And some middle-income families are finding ways to thrive by cutting expenses, earning more, or benefiting from luck or family help.

The term “middle-class” has an emotional definition as much as a numerical or political meaning.

The Pew Research Center defines the middle-class as “having an annual household income from about two-thirds to double the national median, which translates to roughly $48,000 to $145,000 for a family of three (in 2018 dollars).”

For many, the emotional definition of middle-class is all about security. How do you define “middle-class?” Share your thoughts below.

Income Calculators

  • Are you in the American middle class? Find out with the Pew Research Center income calculator, cited across the political spectrum.

  • Answer five questions to compare your income to your geographic peers and get a better sense of where your expectations meet reality. - via New York Times

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My vision of what middle-class means is probably unrealistic for many today. A mortgage that’s less than 30% of income, a reasonable car and car payment, ability to save for a couple of kid’s college funds, and a two-week vacation, with enough to put away for retirement. Actually, when I write it out, that doesn’t seem unrealistic. But the numbers reported by the New York Times and other outlets reveal a different story.

I fully admit that I’m old enough to think everything still costs what it did in the 1980’s and 90’s.

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I loved this article, because it so clearly demonstrates the financial struggles of many Americans (high housing costs, student loans, childcare costs) and the charts showing the trends really made me think! I think this income range defining middle class is nearly spot on, although it really, really depends on the location and cost of living.

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