January 27, 2014

The Middle Class: Key Data Points from Pew Research

Despite the economic recovery, the share of Americans who identify themselves as middle class has dropped sharply in recent years.

KDP_Middle_ClassThe proportion of Americans who identify with the middle class has never been lower, dropping  to 44% from 53% in 2008 during the first months of the Great Recession, according to a survey conducted Jan. 15-19. The share of the public who says they are in the lower or lower-middle classes rose by 15 percentage points, from 25% in 2008 to 40% today.

There is broad public agreement that economic inequality has grown over the past decade, but there are wide partisan differences over how much the government should – and can – do to address these issues.



About two-thirds (65%) of the public believes the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years, according to a survey conducted Jan. 15-19. Nine-in-ten Democrats say the government should do “a lot” or “some” to reduce the gap, but only 45% of Republicans agree.

The years between 2000 and 2010 were a “lost decade” for the middle class in terms of economic well-being.

A Pew Research Center analysis of government data found that, since 2000, the middle class shrunk in size, fell backward in income and wealth, and shed some — but not all — of its characteristic faith in the future.

An overwhelming majority of self-described middle-class adults said in a survey conducted in July 2012 that it was more difficult today than a decade ago to maintain their standard of living.

A majority of middle-class adults who say it’s more difficult for them today put the most blame on Congress and banks and financial institutions.

One group that the middle class does not hold responsible for its economic problems: the middle class itself. Only 8% of middle-class people said the middle class bears “a lot” of the blame.

There were demographic differences among middle-class adults when it came to whom they assigned blame. Among these: Men were more likely than women to blame Congress for the economic woes of the middle class. Young middle-class adults were significantly less likely than older generations to say that Congress was the major cause of middle-class economic problems. Blacks were more likely than whites to put the blame on large corporations.

Along partisan lines, both Republicans (58%) and Democrats (63%) said Congress bore “a lot” of the blame for the economic troubles of the middle class. However, 59% of middle-class Democrats blamed large corporations while only 27% of Republicans did so.

Middle-class adults are somewhat more likely to say the Democrats rather than the Republicans favor their interests.

Only about a quarter to a third of the middle class say that Republicans (26%) or Democrats (37%) primarily favor middle-class interests over the rich or poor.

When it comes to party identification, only about a third of all middle-class adults identify as Democrats (34%) while a smaller share are Republicans (25%). About a third (35%) say they are independents. About four-in-ten (39%) consider themselves conservative, 35% say they are moderates and 22% identify as liberals.


See “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” Aug. 22, 1012

During the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama and Mitt Romney were seen as equally likely to help the middle class.

In a survey conducted in July 2012, Obama had held an advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney among voters when it came to which candidate’s policies would better help the middle class. But in an early October poll, the two were almost evenly matched on this measure.

Romney’s gains on the question of how his policies would affect the middle class came largely from upper-income voters. Voters in lower-income households did not change their view of whether Romney would help the middle class.


Read our signature report The Lost Decade of the Middle Class.

Index to other Key Data Point fact sheets