CBS Poll: The Middle Class Squeeze

economy, bills, dollars, AP

The last few years have seen economic gains for the wealthiest Americans, at least in part resulting from tax cuts and investment gains, and many Americans are living well — buying large homes, expensive cars and luxury products. But has any of this wealth trickled down to the middle class?

According to the latest CBS News Poll, most Americans — and most of those with mid-range incomes — don't think so; instead, many think the middle class has experienced tougher times. 59% think that life for middle class Americans has gotten worse in the last 10 years. Just 30% think it's gotten better.

54% of those with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000 (44% of those who describe themselves as "middle class" have incomes in this range) concur that life has indeed gotten worse for the middle class.

Over the past 10 years, life for the middle class has gotten:
(All respondents)
Better
30 percent
Worse
59 percent
Same (vol.)
7 percent

($30,000-$75,000)
Better
31 percent
Worse
54 percent
Same (vol.)
12 percent

Those with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000 would have trouble paying for large or unexpected expenses. 47% in this income range would have a lot of trouble paying a bill for $1000 right away, and 47% are very concerned about paying for large expenses such as healthcare, tuition, housing or retirement.

But most Americans with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000 are
managing to stay afloat financially. 56% are keeping their heads above water. Just one in 5 is getting ahead, and 23% are falling behind.

Overall, half of Americans feel that they are staying even financially. A quarter say they are falling behind, and another 22% say they are getting ahead. Nearly a decade ago, in early 1998, Americans were more likely to feel they were getting ahead.

Financially, are you ... :
(All respondents)
Getting ahead
21 percent
Staying even
50 percent
Falling behind
27 percent

($30,000-$75,000)
Getting ahead
19 percent
Staying even
56 percent
Falling behind
23 percent

(1998 poll response)
Getting ahead
31 percent
Staying even
48 percent
Falling behind
20 percent

Among those with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000, seven in 10 have not graduated from college. This group tends to be middle-aged; 31% are 30 to 44 years old and another 34% are 45 to 64. Most are white, and more than half live in the Midwest or South.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 994 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 9-12, 2007. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. 396 interviews were conducted among respondents with household incomes of $30,000 to $75,000; the margin of error for this group is plus or minus five percentage points.
  • Joel Roberts

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