In a poll conducted in 2007, CBS asked nearly 1,000 people to define their socioeconomic status. Of those polled, only two percent said they were upper class, and only seven percent defined themselves as “lower class.” This means that over 90 percent of people polled felt they belonged in another category: the middle class.
So it seems that a majority of us are in the same boat. But it is a shrinking boat, with shoddy workmanship, possibly made in China by cyborgs. According to David Autor, an economist at MIT and the author of the report The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market says the job market has been changing over the past couple of decades. There are now more high-wage jobs and low-wage jobs, but the middle-income set is vanishing. There are many reasons for it–the fact that many middle-income jobs can now be done by robots, for one–but the end result is the same. There are high-earners and low earners, and an increasingly gaping chasm in between.
You may have heard this before, likely from the swarm of elected officials who claim to be guardians of the middle class. There is a reason politicians tout themselves as defenders of the middle class; it is a nebulously defined group to which most of us assign ourselves (as evidenced in the poll mentioned above). And the goal of this massive majority is an ideal: The American Dream. It is the vague yet vaunted aspiration of the middle class. The question, of course, is: what does it mean?
When asking questions of such gravity, it makes sense to consult the preeminent repository of questionable minutiae: Wikipedia. According to the Wiki, the American Dream is a “national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success.” The idea, then, is that if you work hard enough, you can succeed in America.
A fair question to ask, then: is that American Dream dead, and the middle class along with it?
Well, it seems we’re almost split in half on that question. Half of us believe that it is still alive, while just under half believe it isn’t. And it is no shock that you’ll get different answers from different groups of people. Higher incomes believe, lower incomes are less likely to believe.
And the ones in the middle? Guess they are a little harder to find these days.