July 24, 2013

Obama returns focus to America’s struggling middle class

In the economic-policy speech he’s scheduled to deliver Wednesday at Illinois’ Knox College, President Obama is expected to re-emphasize his “middle-out” view of the U.S. economy — that growth and prosperity derive from a strong middle class. Unfortunately, it’s been awhile since the American middle class felt strong.

As the Pew Research Center summed it up nearly a year ago, middle-class Americans are “fewer, poorer, [and] gloomier” after enduring a “lost decade” of stagnant incomes, shrinking wealth and greater financial stress and uncertainty.

And though some top-line economic indicators — unemployment, housing prices, the stock market — have improved since that time, Americans in general aren’t feeling much better about the economy.

FT_What_ClassFor starters, fewer Americans described themselves as “middle class” in 2012 than four years earlier: 49%, compared with 53% in 2008. And the share describing themselves as “lower” or “lower-middle” class rose over that time, from 25% to 32%.

Within self-described members of the middle class, the overwhelming sense that maintaining a middle-class lifestyle is harder today than a decade ago cuts across age, gender, partisan, educational and racial/ethnic divides. (Though whites and people ages 50 to 64 were even more pessimistic than other subgroups, last year’s Pew Research report found.)

However, the middle-class respondents were somewhat more sanguine about their personal situations. About equal percentages said they were more financially secure now than 10 year earlier (44%) as said they were less secure (42%); blacks and younger adults were most likely to say they had made progress over the past decade.

Similarly, middle-class blacks, Hispanics and under-50 adults were most likely to say they were better off financially than before the recession. But only 28% of whites said they were better off, versus 45% who said they were worse off. Among people 65 and older, just 13% said they were better off, compared with 46% who said they were worse off.

The middle-class survey showed an interesting partisan divide in self-assessment, with Republicans and independents saying they were recovering more slowly than Democrats. About half (51%) of all middle-class Republicans and 46% of independents said they had yet to fully make up their recession-era losses, compared with only about a third (35%) of Democrats.

And who’s responsible for the difficulties of the middle class? While Congress gets the most votes, with 62% assigning it “a lot” of the blame, the Pew Research report found plenty of blame to go around. The one exception: Middle-class people themselves, with just 8% assigning their own socioeconomic group “a lot” of blame, and 47% saying they weren’t to blame at all.


Topics: Barack Obama, Economic Policy, Economics and Personal Finances, Domestic Affairs and Policy, National Economy, Economic Recession

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Sally Edelstein4 years ago

    The idea of upward mobility in America is a powerful and deeply engrained part of the American Dream. Never was that idea more potent or more seductive than in mid-century America, when the real Mad men of Madison Ave. cleverly created ad campaigns calculated to sell the American dream to the world and to ourselves. For a look at one such ad campaign that both reinforced and reflected the fairy tale suburban life offering a template to the newly minted middle class please visit ” A Blueprint for the Middle Class.

  2. Audwin Jones4 years ago

    Being a former Democrat, and now a former Republican, I find it hard to defend the policies, rhetoric and politics of either side. It isn’t picking the right side that’s at issue. I think it’s responding to the needs, issues and concerns of the day in a way that represents the virtues of our society as ethically and as comprehensively as possible.

    No one party has all the answers all the time so let’s work together. Our system has been corrupted to the point that we call black – white, and white – Black. We have lost our way and no longer have a center or point of focus; our focus is in the moment with little to no consideration of the future.

    God save us from ourselves!

  3. JAMES4 years ago

    Very clearly written

  4. Jim Thresher4 years ago

    President Obama and his party could care less about the middle class. This is nothing more than a diversion from the many scandals that are decimating Obama and his democrat party. I can only pray that we can somehow remove the cancer that is speading across our government and making politics toxic and destroying our great nation.