woman with money and piggy bank
woman with money and piggy bank

What is the middle class, and who defines it? There is no solid description with clear salary ranges that define the middle class, but U.S. agencies and economists do try to put numbers to this seemingly abstract group of people.

Poverty Line

broken piggy bank
broken piggy bank

As of 2009, the poverty threshold as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau had not changed since 2006. For a family of four, it was $21,203. For a family of three, it was $16,530. For a family of two and unrelated individuals, it was $13,540 and $10,590, respectively.

U.S. Census Quintiles

business people in office
business people in office

The U.S. Census Bureau breaks down the reported household incomes into quintiles (or five divisions). In 2007, the middle quintile reported an income range of $36,000 to $57,660. Many economists and politicians alike believe this range is too narrow to encompass the true middle class of America. Therefore, a more generous range would include the middle three quintiles, which makes the range from $19,178 to $91,705. This range accounts for 60 percent of all households, and with the lower end balancing near the poverty threshold, this range may not be completely accurate.

Median Income

payday marked on calendar
payday marked on calendar

The 2008 census reported the medium income as $50,233. The PewResearch Center suggests that the middle income range is 75 percent to 150 percent of the median income. This would make the middle class income range $37,675 to $75,350. To most, this range seems small, and surveys conducted by the PewResearch Center find that many who fall outside this range still consider themselves middle class.

Economist's Views

family infront of home being built
family infront of home being built

Economist Gary Burtless of Brookings Institution indicates that the middle class encompasses from one-half the median income to twice the median income. This would make the middle class income range $25,117 to $100,466. MIT economist Frank Levy believes that those in the middle class have enough money to afford the basic building blocks of a good life, including a house, a car and money to pay necessary bills. He suggests that families in their prime earning years are middle class if they fall between $30,000 and $90,000.

More Than Income

different employees walking down the street
different employees walking down the street

Surveys conducted by the PewResearch Center confirm that salary, or income, range is not the only determining factor of what class a person considers himself. Four out of 10 Americans with incomes below $20,000 classify themselves as middle class. On the other end, one-third of those who enjoy incomes over $150,000 say they are middle class.