If You Think You’re Middle Class in California, Chances Are You’re Wrong

The American middle class continues to wither as the lower and upper income tiers keep growing, especially in California
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With the middle class in consistent decline since its peak in the 1970s as more and more people drop down and out while some manage to claw their way up from the nation’s socioeconomic midsection, it’s getting harder than ever to be snug in the American center—and even harder in California.

As CNBC reports, a recent study from the Pew Research Center reveals that since the middle class reached its zenith in 1971, its ranks have plummeted from 61 percent to 50 percent of Americans. Even since 2018, its numbers have dropped two percent. Pew assesses middle class membership as belonging to those who make “two-thirds or double the national median income.” Which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was $70,784 in 2021, so you’d need to be pulling down between $47,189 and $141,568 to rank in the doughy middle.

Those figures, however, are for the country as a whole and things such as family size or where you live or don’t factor into that equation. In fact, while many of us may still suppose we are middle class, according to a recent Gallup Poll cited by CNBC, many of us are wrong—particularly in the Golden State.

For a quick look at your class standing, these are the ranges spanning the income that now marks one as middle class in cities across California and the U.S.

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim: $55,000 – $165,000

San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley: $77,000 – $232,000

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario: $51,000 – $154,000

San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad: $61,000 – $182,000

New York-Newark-Jersey City: $56,000 – $169,000

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria: $74,000 – $221,000

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue: $68,000 – $203,000

Denver-Aurora-Lakewood: $60,000 – $181,000

The Pew report also provides new insight about the changing socioeconomic status of Americans over the last five decades.

Black and older adults have “made the greatest progress up the income ladder” since 1971 but continue to trail behind other groups. Those over 65 saw the largest increases, followed by Black adults, married men, married women, and Asian adults.

Single-earner households are far more likely to be lower income than they were in previous years, with nearly 53 percent falling on hard times, compared to 38 percent in 1971. Married women and men in lower income brackets have seen no change in earnings, but those in the middle have experienced substantial decreases, Pew found.

Asian adults continue to have the highest percentage in the upper income bracket followed by men and white adults. Hispanic adults have seen their upper income percentage grow while their lower income bracket has remained the same at 40 percent.

Education levels have continued to play a role in socioeconomic status. In 1971, a whopping 69 percent of those with only a high school degree found themselves in the middle class. Today, it’s at 52 percent due to a substantial increase in lower income. Those with Bachelor degrees saw all three classes change slightly as the middle-income bracket shrunk—39 percent are in the upper income class.

Want to know where you stand? This handy income calculator from the Pew Research Center should give you a better idea of your place in the great class struggle.


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