The middle class is shrinking, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. What happens if it disappears altogether?
Rakesh Kochhar ran the study to show what “middle class” actually means. Kochhar’s team found the share of Americans who qualify as the middle class has fallen from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2021. The study showed the amount of income they hold has also fallen. It’s gone to upper-class Americans, who make up a fifth of the population but hold half of its income.
Gary Hoover, who teaches economics at Tulane, believes the shrinking of the middle class' financial power touches nearly every major issue in America.
“It's not that the middle class is actually broken in some way. What's happening is that, in my opinion, the avenues to reaching the middle class are being blocked,” Hoover said.
The struggles for many to buy a home, the lack of funding for public schools and the expenses of health care directly hit those in the middle.
Kochhar’s study examined who, in the last 50 years, gained or fell in terms of income status. The group that fell the most was those with anything less than a college degree.
“I’m not going to be educated the way I was before, which means I’m not going to make the income I was before. Now, I don’t have stored wealth. I’m less likely to be able to afford sending my children to higher education. Now the cycle just repeats itself,” Hoover said.
It seems strange to talk about the middle class going away when it still makes up half the country. It seems difficult to define a phrase that means different things to different people.
“The same way they have been blocked today is the same way we can unblock them. We don’t have to continue on this trend. Trends can be reversed,” Hoover said.