People like Emily Flaherty, a pet groomer at an animal hospital near Birmingham, Alabama. She makes about $15 an hour. What's left over after she pays the bills?
"There's nothing, there's nothing," she says. "I've actually been using credit cards to get by. I keep thinking…hoping to get ahead for a week or a month, but it never happens.”
Even though she scrimps, Flaherty says she doesn’t know how she will afford college for her two teenage daughters.
"I mean, I do not have Internet, I do not have cable. I feel like I'm on Gilligan's Island sometimes, but…you have to make those choices to make ends meet," she says.
Many Americans face a similar challenge. Like Flaherty, roofers, farm-equipment mechanics and dental assistants, are among the those who earn around the median wage. That's $16.71 an hour, according to the latest government figures.
"That middle group is struggling and has been struggling," says Steven Pressman, who teaches economics at Monmouth University.
He says upward mobility has been a problem for years. And it will likely be years before middle class Americans can climb the economic ladder again.