A tough decade for the middle class

A sign seen at the Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Rally to Restore Sanity / March to Keep Fear Alive) on the National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Tess Vigeland: President Obama and Gov. Romney are traveling around the country to rally the middle class vote. A report out today from the Pew Charitable Trusts finds both candidates are preaching to a group that's very worried about maintaining its middle class status. And for good reason.

From our Wealth and Poverty Desk, Shereen Marisol Meraji has more.


Shereen Marisol Meraji: Eighty-five percent of the middle-class Americans surveyed by Pew said it's harder to stay middle class these days.

Paul Taylor: The sense of stagnation in life that the middle class feels is very real, it's very sharp, it's supported by data.

Paul Taylor is the executive vice president of the Pew Research Center. Pew looked at Census and Federal Reserve data and found that the middle class ended the last decade...

Taylor: ...with less in median annual income than it did at the start, a lot less wealth than it had at the start, it shrunk in size.

Data from the Pew Research Center

And Taylor says, you can't blame it all on the Great Recession, data shows that middle class income has been stagnant for years.

Sara Pankaskie: My name is Sara Pankaskie, and my age is 71.

Older middle-class Americans, like Florida resident Sara Pankaskie, felt the most secure in their status during this rough decade.

Pankaskie: I own my own home.

They bought their homes before the bubble, paid off their mortgages, and live on a combination of retirement pensions and social security. But, Pankaskie says her children are much less secure.

Pankaskie: It hasn't lived up to their expectations, the...the American Dream.

Charles Carter: I'm Charles Carter. I'm Sara Pankaskie's son.

Carter went back to school, in his late 40s, because he wanted a better job. He's finishing up his master's degree in elementary education and drained his retirement and savings to do it.

Carter: I am frustrated, but at the same time it's still one of the greatest countries in the world, if not the greatest and I'm glad to be living here. It's just frustrating to know it could be so much better, you know?

That frustration mixed with muted optimism is a theme in the study. Sixty-seven percent of middle-class Americans surveyed still believe with hard work you can get ahead.

I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji for Marketplace.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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