Reports of the demise of the middle class may be premature, to paraphrase Mark Twain
About seven out of 10 Americans consider themselves middle class, according to a new survey from Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee-based insurance company. The survey is part of an ongoing research effort from the insurer to understand how Americans view their finances, and it provides insights into the middle class at a time when many of its members are finally getting back on their feet a decade after the Great Recession.
When asked if they would describe themselves as middle class, a vast range of Americans agreed that they fit into the group, the study found. About 68 percent of those who self-identify as middle class earn anywhere from $50,000 to about $200,000 per year. That may be because many Americans view the middle class as a lifestyle, and not just how much they bring home in their paychecks.
"It has more to do with your optimism and feelings of stability about your financial future," said Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning at Northwestern Mutual. "The middle class is becoming this state of mind that, 'I'm going to be able to get by.' That's where the divide is between middle class and the rest of the general population. They feel they figured out a way to have the life they want for them and their families."
To be sure, the survey is asking Americans to self-select whether they fit into the middle class, which casts a wider net than the income-based limits that demographers typically use when studying the group.
Pew Research Center, for one, has found the middle class has grown smaller in 90 percent of U.S. metropolitan areas since 2000. That's due to wider income inequality, which includes more Americans moving out of the middle class and into the upper-income bracket, which Pew views as earning annual income of more than $145,000 for a family of four.
Read on to learn more about five characteristics of the middle class, as identified in Northwestern Mutual's survey of 2,749 adults conducted in February.