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August 24, 2007

Who's in the middle class?

Many of us have a conception of the typical middle class family as being like the one on the old sit-com "Leave It to Beaver." This was a family with one working spouse and children. But does this describe the typical middle-class family of today? Dr. Mike Walden, an N.C. State University economist, says no.

"Let's actually focus today on the children part, because quite frankly the vast majority of households have two working spouses. And if we define middle class as households in the middle of the income distribution ... then the direct answer to your question is no," says Dr. Walden, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist. "If we go back to 1960, which you were alluding to, half of those in the middle class were married families with children, just like on 'Leave it to Beaver.'

"Today it's only 18 percent -- only 18 percent of middle-class families are married families with children. The majority of middle-class households today are ... single heads of household, either with or without children," he adds. "The only household category -– the only household category -- where married families with children are close to majority are now those in the very highest income group -- that is, those with the top 20 percent of income.

"So clearly," Walden concludes, "who's in the middle class has dramatically changed in the last half century."

Posted by deeshore at August 24, 2007 08:00 AM