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Behind The Mic With Joe Mathieu: Defining The Middle Class

BOSTON (CBS) - How do you define middle class based on income?

It's the kind of question that most politicians fear - and I'm guessing that's why Jon Keller chose to ask it during last night's debate.

And let's be honest. Politicians have been crowing about the middle class forever, whether they have any idea of what it is.

Last night, Congressman Ed Markey said the middle class includes people making $80,000 to $200,000 a year.

Gabriel Gomez went with $80,000 to $175,000 a year.

That's like the cable guy telling you he'll arrive sometime between 8am and 8pm.

And it's not just politicians. Even economists have struggled to define the middle class.

The Pew Charitable Trust pegged the middle-class income range at somewhere between $33,000 and $64,000 a year in its most recent study on this.

The Census Bureau provides a bigger spread - anywhere from $21,000 to $102, 000 a year.

By the way, the median income in America is just above $50,000.

But here's the thing. One could argue the middle class isn't actually defined by money.

It's more abstract than that. More like a state of mind.

Pew Research found that 40% of Americans who make below $20,000 a year describe themselves as middle class. And a third of those making over $150,000 say they're middle class too!

Maybe that's because most people define the middle class based on what they remember – or have been told – about families in the 1950s.

You know, Leave It to Beaver.

I think we can all agree that a lot has changed since then - for better and worse.

And some of the biggest changes have happened in the job market.

In that case, not for the better.

A quarterly economic report released this week from UCLA says the job market's recovery from the Great Recession has been the slowest since World War II.

They say 5 million new jobs have been created in that time.

But in many cases middle income jobs have been replaced by what some like to call "McJobs." You know, burger flippers. Minimum wage positions.

Just yesterday the Labor Department told us the average hourly wage fell in the last quarter by the biggest amount since the 1940s.
I wonder if the candidates would like to take another stab at the question.
-Joe Mathieu


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