First Person: Making it in the Middle Class

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Making it in the middle class isn't necessarily about having a certain salary. Sociologists say the middle class is America's favorite socioeconomic group because they represent the working fabric of American culture. A recent article on the USA Today site points out middle class is a matter of attitude more than anything else. Although few people agree on how to define the middle class, it's considered the backbone of our country. I find it easy to skate along in the middle class, but only after years of saving and living below my means.

Looking at statistics

I agree with economists who say that our perception of a middle-class lifestyle differs from middle class statistics. The median household income in the United States is about $50,000. However, experts disagree on what the income range is for the middle class. A Pew Charitable Trust study says the range is about $32,000 to $64,000. The U.S. Census figures put the middle-class figures at between $20,600 and $102,000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Commerce has described it as between $58,000 and $122,000.

Creating a middle-class identity

It's interesting to hear how people label themselves when asked about their socio-economic situation or status. According to Pew researchers, 17 percent identify with upper class and 32 percent with upper class when asked to choose between lower, middle and upper. When given more options, people rather characterize themselves as "working class," as opposed to lower class and "upper middle class" as opposed to upper class. I have always considered myself in the middle of the middle class even though my income has been across the board.

Keeping up the fa├žade

Although it doesn't take a lot of income to live a middle-class income, it sometimes takes a lot of credit cards. When discussing the middle class, it's also important to talk about net worth. My family has chosen to live in a lower middle-class neighborhood instead of an upper middle-class neighborhood so that we can avoid debt. We rather own our home outright in a lower middle-class part of town rather than owe $250,000 on a mortgage that stretches us. A federal report in 2012 showed the middle-class net worth tumbled during the Great Recession. However, few people I knew gave up their middle-class lifestyle just become their net worth or incomes fell.

Although we could probably make it as part of the middle class even on one income, we choose to be dual-income household. By having two incomes, we can devote a larger percentage of our money to saving and paying off our mortgage debt. If we ever accumulate millions of dollars, I think we will still stay in our neighborhood. According to the recent Pew Research data, 84 percent of Americans make more than their parents do. Even though we make more money than our parents did, we don't strive for a lifestyle that is any grander. I'll be curious to see whether my Millennial sons strive for anything beyond what they have had.

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More from this contributor:

Middle Class Is Thriving in my Town

Suffering from Middle-Class Retirement Delusion

I Don't Need to Know How Much Others Make


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