What do you consider "middle class"?

My fiancee and I had a good laugh a while back because she was telling me how her boss said that her biggest fear was to be “just middle class.”

We found that funny because being solidly middle class is pretty much my goal in life. Yeah, being rich would be nice, but that isn’t going to happen.

So, what do you consider middle class? Would 60K/yr be? More, less?

Depends on location and cost of living. In many major cities, 60K per year would be next to impossible to live on.

To me, middle class means that you can pay your bills, live in a decent place in a decent neighborhood, buy food and clothes that are not exorbitant, and sock a small amount of money in investments and savings every month.

According to a New York Times series on class in the US, 60K/year is a higher income than 78% of people in the US. Their graphic classes it as upper middle class.

I’d add “has a college degree or higher” and “has a job where most of their day is not spent doing physical labor” to that.

Middle class and the exact income required are variable depending on location.

To me, the fiscal middle class means:
Owning a home, albeit a modest home (or saving up to own your own).
Owning a car, albeit not a luxury car.
Having a reasonable amount of savings for emergencies, or unexpected circumstances after all the bills are taken care of.


what do i myself consider middle class? not upper class and not working class :wink:
while that sounds flip, I would say it’s easier to define what is not middle class than what is


upper class: extremely wealthy people who come from either dynastic wealth or who are politically connected. basically, the upper class is far more small and select than most people (including your fiancees boss) like to think.

working class: people involved in the trades who are not themselves entrepreneurs (and even then business-owning tradesmen may not qualify as middle class, that’s a dicey one). typically (although nowadays this may be becoming more and more untrue) a college degree would delineate the working from the middle class.

There’s something wrong with that interactive chart, or with the way I’m using it. I end up as incredibly high class by its lights, which neither my bank balance nor my perception of my status supports. Ask my friends! I have No Class at all!

My parents owned a short-order diner, and after my father passed away when I was young, she worked as a secretary. This was in an area that wasn’t very prosperous (West Virginia in the 1960s-1970s).

I consider my upbringing lower-middle class. My two brothers and I always had enough to eat, but I often heard my parents whispering about being able to pay bills, which ones to pay now vs. which ones to put off until next month. I remember doctors phoning the house (yes, the doctors would themselves call - it was a different century) asking for money we owed them.

I went to college and became an electrical engineer. I had to scrimp at first, and felt ‘sticker shock’ living in the more expensive Baltimore-Washington region. The thrifty habits of my youth came in handy. I felt like not a whole lot had changed.

But after working a few years, I had a revelation one day when I heard a noise coming from my car. All my life, such a thing was cause for worrying and speculating on what to do. But when I overcame my habits and looked at things rationally, I realized that I now had money in the bank to get the car fixed and write a check for it, no matter what the problem was. I would cuss a bit, but an unexpected expense would not rob me of my basic needs, like food, shelter, basic health care or transportation.

This was when I felt like I had made it to the middle class.

Twenty some years later, I would probably qualify as upper-middle class, income-wise at least. My habits in luxuries haven’t really gotten more expensive. In many ways, I still live like a lower-middle class person. But I really enjoy not having to worry about paying for the basics, and would definitely not like that aspect of returning to my origins.

I would like to acknowledge that health care costs are a different matter than the other things I’ve listed as basics, in that the ‘ceiling’ of bills is basically unlimited, at least for the middle class. I do know of people who thought they were pretty well set financially, but had that change when they experienced a major health problem. Nobody declares bankruptcy because of a failed transmission.

Damn, there goes another wrench into my “middle class without college” goal.

I always think of middle class as being as much a cultural thing as an economic one. There are people I know who are working class that are better off financially as me, but I think even if I were a pauper I’d be a middle class one. My father was a teacher, I’m educated to third level, so are my siblings and the majority of my peers.

According to the nifty NYT graphic, my husband and I average to about 50th percentile. That seems about right to me. We’re high in terms of some cultural factors (well-educated, raised by well-educated people) while low in others (he works as a groundskeeper at a local park), and medium in terms of income and wealth (wealth as high as it is largely because we’re in our 40s but have no kids).

If I didn’t have health insurance COBRA’d from the job I lost last fall, we’d be bankrupt now, though.

Interestingly, “middle class” means something else entirely in India, from what I understand: it means being able to afford consumer goods in something the way Americans do – shopping at malls, owning a car, etc. This has nothing to do with being in the middle of any demographic scale, and a lot more to do with comparative economics. The growth of this “middle class” means it’s increasingly lucrative for foreign companies to market there. I think that many Americans think similarly about middle class in some contexts: being middle class is being able to afford many of the things you see on TV, and buy brand names, and eat at restaurants.

I’m upper middle class, insofar as both me and my SO both make over $100K each… BUT, we live in the Washington, D.C. area, where said income doesn’t get you nearly what it could get you in 95% of the rest of the country.

We own a 1400 sq ft. duplex, both drive compact cars 5+ years or older, haven’t taken a real vacation in years, and have a combined $120K in student loan debt (master’s degrees-- thankfully, most of that debt is hers :-).

BUT, I don’t have to count my pennies every day, and our ability to “impulse buy” is fairly significant, e.g. I can cover fairly expensive random expenses in short order when necessary (“Crap, need a new fridge… alright, I’m gonna go buy one” kind of deal).

Also, we have great health care, retirement benefits, all that jazz. To be honest, this recession hasn’t affected either of us at all (but it’s affected friends and family, so we’re VERY aware of how tough times are for many people out there… we gave plenty to charity this season).

Anyway, it’s a cliche, but where you fall on the scale depends upon where you live. On our income, we’d be very upper middle class in most places, or even close to wealthy in podunk towns. But around these parts, we’re very, very far from anything remotely resembling rich… so I’d say middle class and stick with that.

(BTW, my personal definition of the classes-- when you’re poor, you have to worry about everything, when you’re middle class you have to worry about not being poor, when you’re rich you don’t have to worry about anything).

I live in Manhattan comfortably for around that. So no, there is not a single major city that this is true for.

Well, it’s sort of contingent upon both your number of dependents and your definition of “comfortable”.

I consider middle class to encompass a huge range. I’m middle class, but I’m certain that lots of people on the lower end of middle class would tend to think of my as being rich. Of course people that are upper middle class would look and me and think of me as being on par with those poor working shlubs.

Fact is, I need my paycheck to survive, but there’s enough left over to save and have some fun with. That’s middle class.

By all of the measures of that New York Times graphic, I would be in the top 85th percentile, so upper middle class according to them. But I feel very definitely middle-class, given that I live in a really expensive part of the country and rent a modest apartment, because houses are so expensive here and don’t feel comfortable with what a mortgage would cost me. But I am debt-free and can afford to indulge myself when it comes to buying toys.

I forget who, but someone has a set of defining characteristics from some book they always post in these discussions. I’m sure it will be along shortly.

Basically, your socio-economic class is more a function of your culture, hopes, fears, aspirations and opportunities. It can’t easily be quantified simply by your income level or how much wealth you have accumulated.

“Middle class” consists of a broad spectrum of the majority of traditional working Americans. Basically, IMHO, you are middle class if the following applies to you:

  • (Probably both) your parents worked steady regular jobs.
  • Your family has a mortgage on the single modest suburban home they own.
  • You have been taught that the “key to success” is some sort of vague plan to study hard and get a college degree.
  • Your youth was spent mostly following some combination of sports, tv, movies and pop-culture
  • Most driving-age members of your family have their own modest form of automotive transportation
  • There are other nearby towns or neighborhoods you readily identify as “wealthy” or “poor”.
  • Most of your clothes come from the mall or Wallmart.

IOW, the middle class is the range of people who more or less can live the modest American lifestyle. The majority of families portrayed on television - The Simpsons, The Bundies, Malcolm in the Middle’s family, Everyone Love’s Raymond’s family, etc are all portrayed as solidly middle class.

To me, middle class means being wealthy. You work for a living, but you are paid extremely well for it. I’m thinking lawyers, doctors of all kinds, higher-level managers, CEO’s, CIO’s, CFO’s, that sort of thing.

Upper class, to me, is family wealth, i.e. you don’t necessarily have to work for a living.

I’ve always thought of “class” as a function of how much disposable income is available to a family. Middle class is the earnings region where you work, but have enough disposable income to have a few toys, or the ability to take some decent vacations. You can differentiate from “upper” to “lower” middle class by the size of the toys (so to speak). Rich is when you don’t have to work. Poor is when you have nothing left after paying for necessities.

That’s a very generous middle class. Lawyers and doctors can run the gamut-- I know some very poor (relatively speaking) lawyers and doctors-- but CEOs? There are no middle-class CEOs. (Middle class “small business owners” who call themselves CEOs, sure, but they’re not what anyone thinks of when you think CEO).

I think upper class starts far lower than family wealth. Again, depends on where you live, but in the D.C. area, making $400K or more is definitely upper class. I know lawyers, doctors and consultants in that income range-- big houses within the Beltway, luxury cars, expensive overseas vacations, tony private schools for the kids, nannies instead of day care, etc.

Also, most Americans in the “upper class” are there from their own efforts, i.e. success in business, investments, the arts, etc. We have “old money” in America, but you have to be very wealthy indeed to give up on thoughts of work (well, give up on those thoughts and still live a wealthy lifestyle-- I can live like a very comfortable unemployed playboy for about six months before 20 years of wealth ran out :).

The way I look at it, an easy way to define class is by the problems you face. Even though I make over six figures, my problems are virtually identical to many of the problems I faced when I made “only” $35K-- mortgage, car payments, micromanaging the 401K, etc. These are problems I wouldn’t have if I were poor-- instead, I’d be worrying about rent, bus fare, and saving up to get my kid’s teeth fixed.

When you’re part of the upper class, your problems change. You still have problems-- everybody does, no life on Earth is easy (although some are far easier than others). But you have less in common with the poor and the middle class.

As someone still living with her parents and as such not very familiar with finance… my rather vague definition of middle class is “not poor enough to frequently have to go without, but not rich enough to never worry about the bills”.