America’s middle class has been shrinking for the past 50 years. While middle class Americans remain the biggest income group by number of people, the same can’t be said of the aggregate income earned by them. From 1970 to 2021, the share of U.S. aggregate income earned by the middle class shrunk massively, from formerly 62 percent to just 42 percent. During the same time, aggregate earnings by high income Americans increased from 29 percent to 50 percent – despite the fact that the high income class is still less than half as big as the middle class in America.
A report by Pew Research Center includes these numbers and also shows that unmarried women and those in single-earner households are less likely to belong to the middle class. The report considers anyone whose household earns between two thirds and double of the U.S. median income to belong to the middle class.
Both the low income and the high income class have been growing in America – squeezing the middle class from both sides. One especially alarming trend that only pertains to the low income class is that while it has been increasing in size, it has been decreasing in its share of aggregated income. Between 1970 and 2021, earnings of the low income class decreased from an already meager 10 percent to just 8 percent.
Black and Latino Americans are still much more likely to belong to the low income class – at around 40 percent of each group in this category compared to 24 percent of white people. However, the report attests one of the biggest upwards movements for Black Americans and moderate gains for Latinos. Yet, the Black middle class is still barely expanding as some gains seem to have gone straight to the Black high income class, which more than doubled in size in the past 50 years. Over the past half century, the white low income class has been expanding, but it remains much smaller than Black and Latino low income classes in relative terms. Looking at people who have experienced a big amount of downwards mobility in America independent of race, it has been those with less educational attainment. This includes people with only a high school diploma as well as those who didn’t finish college.