Who is the middle class?

Save the middle class

Sarah Gardner: The political conventions are all over and in case you didn't hear the phrase "middle class" enough, Krissy Clark from our Wealth and Poverty Desk has been listening closely to both candidates and just who they're appealing to. Hi Krissy.

Krissy Clark: Hi Sarah.

Gardner: So Krissy, just who is this middle class that both the Democrats and the Republicans have been appealing to?

Clark: I've been asking around and the answer that I got from one guy was pretty illustrative:

Doug Holtz-Eakin: Don't go asking that around, you're going to ruin everything.

That was economist Doug Holtz-Eakin. He was one of the senior advisers for one of the last Republican presidential nominees, John McCain. Of course, Holtz-Eakin was being a little tongue-in-cheek, but it gets to the slippery, Rorschach test-ness of the phrase middle class on either side of the aisle, especially during a presidential campaign. Because don't forget, almost half of Americans describe themselves as middle class, even though that covers a huge spectrum of incomes.

Gardner: Right. But how do economists actually define middle class?

Clark: Well, not rich and not poor. One of the simplest explanations I've seen is all adults with annual household income between about $40,000 and $120,000.

Gardner: So after listening to both the Democratic Convention, the Republican Convention, what do we know now about how Romney defines middle class and how Obama defines middle class?

Clark: Of course that's hard to say definitely, but just for kicks I did a word count of how many times each man used the phrase. Obama used it five. Romney used it twice. But then Romney used entrepreneur once and Obama never used that one, so maybe that says something about the kind of middle class person Romney is focused on. As for specific phrases, I was struck in Romney's speech when he said:

Mitt Romney: Unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class of America.

Now maybe Romney is talking about the penalties that uninsured people would have to pay under Obama's health care plan, or maybe he's talking about Obama's proposal to increase taxes on households making over $250,000, in which case that also says something about who Romney includes in the middle class.

Gardner: And so Krissy, what about Obama's speech then?

Clark: One of the middle class moments in his speech was when he said:

Barack Obama: I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire's tax cut.

So Obama's drawing a much brighter line between the middle class and the rich. He also made a lot of references to education and college as a gateway to opportunity. Of course, if you talk to economists, most jobs in the next several decades won't be owning small businesses or being educated, white-collar professionals. Most of the jobs will be in the service sector -- janitors, home health care workers, restaurant servers. So the real trick is to turn those jobs that the bulk of Americans will have into middle class jobs.

Gardner: Right. Krissy Clark from our Wealth and Poverty Desk, thanks a lot.

Clark: Thank you.

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.
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Regarding the future of job creation as janitors and restaurant servers......you are speaking as though free-market and third way politics will survive this upheaval......which it won't. People are preparing to turn this around both in Europe and the US. We will see the democratic core vote these Third Way pols out now that everyone knows what they are up to. It takes a while to educate when the mainstream media works hard to hide the facts. In the meantime, these global corporations will have no where to go as all nations choke on free trade and become protective of national markets. No one trusts global banks so the financial arm needed by these mega-corporations will wither.

All this will lead to a return to domestic and regional business structures that places the consumer back in the driver seat for economic stability; reduced profit-margins and brings higher wages. So, this will all cycle around in a decade. We may have a generation of people staying at home rather than working.....hopefully campaigning for progressive politics.....but white collar will be back in force. That doesn't mean you don't want to make those janitor and restaurant jobs middle-class though!

While I wish we didn't have to have an argument about socio-economic classes in America which has no class system, such is life in politics! I wanted to call attention to this section:

"he's talking about Obama's proposal to increase taxes on households making over $250,000, in which case that also says something about who Romney includes in the middle class."

While a household making over 250k seems fairly well off, many small business owners that have not incorporated file taxes as individuals. While the business is likely to gross over 250k, the take home pay for the owner is nowhere close to that. I believe this is what Gov. Romney means when he doesn't want taxes to be raised on those earning 250k /year. Under the soon-expiring 'Bush tax cuts' as well as excise taxes in the affordable care act, these households and small businesses will see taxes go up, which means the cost of goods and services or their small number of employees may change for the worse!

Thank you for a pleasant article, it made my evening commute seem better. I only wish it lasted longer to get all the facts through a discussion.

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