What’s middle class income? It’s less than many people think
I thought Congress and the White House would come to an agreement of some kind on the “fiscal cliff” budget discussions before the calendar actually turned over to 2013.
After all, we’ve seen what Michigan legislators can do in a hurry when they put their minds to it.
The sideshow that annoyed me Tuesday night on Twitter involved debates from the public over what is a middle class income bracket as people considered the details.
CNN analyst Roland Martin was a huge contributor to the discussions, as some of the conversations I saw either retweeted, replied to, or mentioned his timeline. … and Roland came right back with attitude and sass.
I’m not sure even with a Storify search I could find and replicate the entire conversation because it went in a lot of directions and may have even started with a comment on TV that night. But the jist of it was that Roland considers middle class to be median household income.
Here is one of Roland’s tweets. Keep in mind the quotations are from a prior tweet, asking him a question:
This was met with jeers from some people who sniffed that $100,000 is middle class. Roland publicly called out this example from @305HeatLive with a snarky reply:
Another tweet from Roland:
Americans have a serious misunderstanding of what others make in this country. It boggles the mind
And this one from Roland:
Let me help some people out. if you’re making $100,000 a more you are not middle-class. Those are the facts
I think Roland is right on.
The demographic I had in mind when launching Monroe on a Budget audience is the $40,000 to $65,000 household income bracket.
I knew those were the people who not only “made too much money” for the most well known public and charity assistance programs (see my “how broke is broke?” 2012 chart); but they would have a hard time making ends meet without creativity and resourcefulness.
As I later learned, that’s not only the $14 an hour bracket that was the topic of such scorn when two-tier pay jobs started becoming the reality for factory work in southeast Michigan in 2008; …it’s also pretty close to the area’s median household income.
Here’s the math:
- Two people earning $14 an hour full time have annual household income of $58,240.
- Median household income in Monroe County, Mich., according to the U.S. Census bureau, was $50,046 in 2010. To be fair, that amount in 2005 was closer to $55,800.
Based on the fact that $44,700 is the cutoff point for emergency grocery assistance through Monroe County Opportunity Program, which is the federally-funded Community Action Commission in Monroe, Mich., I think it’s fair to post the bottom rung of “middle class” for a family of four at $45,000.
So where do we post the top rung of the middle class? $65,000 has historically been my definition, but I’d accept $75,000 as a reasonable cutoff.
Yes, there are financial annoyances and frustrations in the median income bracket.
I give very specific examples in a sample household budget that I’ve updated a couple of times since writing the original scenario in 2008 for a median income family of four in Monroe County, Mich. That fictional family has only one car payment, rents a two-bedroom apartment with laundry hookups, and juggles a grocery budget that is noticeably below the “thrifty” range I teach as realistic.
That’s why there is no way I would define $100,000 as middle class. Those people are upper middle class. Their homes are noticeably larger and nicer than even the average single-family home in the Monroe area. Private school for the kids is a choice rather than a financial sacrifice. They have more options on how to handle college expenses. They have nicer cars. Their out-of-state vacations happen more frequently.
Yes, I know some of those earning $100,000 are straddled with college student debt. But not all of them are. While it is hard for a young adult to land such a job today without at least a trade school certificate, it was possible for their parents and grandparents to hit that income point or pretty close to it with only a high school diploma in southeast Michigan.
If the actual median income for Monroe County, Mich., sounds low to you, then look up the Census reports for your community and find out what median income is.
When you’ve hit 200 percent of that, you’re no longer middle class.