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Middle-class in U.S. at pre-recession levels

Staff Writer |
The breakdown of social class identification in the U.S. has returned to pre-recession levels.

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2% are saying they belong to the upper class, 62% to the upper-middle or middle classes, and 36% to the working or lower classes.

Americans' identification as upper-middle or middle class was lower in 2012 and 2015, but rose across three surveys taken last fall, and has edged up slightly more in Gallup's June 7-11 poll.

Gallup's class identification question asks Americans to put themselves in one of five categories: upper, upper-middle, middle, working or lower class.

This subjective classification differs from objective calculations of social class based on quantifiable measures like income, education, net worth, location of residence, family background or other variables.

Middle class is the most common label, used by 44% of Americans, followed by working class at 28% and upper-middle class at 18%.

Relatively few consider themselves to be lower class or upper class, at 8% and 2%, respectively.

Gallup did not ask this social class question between 2009 and 2011, and therefore it is possible the 2012-2015 dip in middle-class identification was evident earlier, following the 2008 financial meltdown and its aftermath.

Overall, the three 2016 surveys and the current June 7-11 survey demonstrate that subjective social class identification has stabilized close to the prevailing pattern observed before 2009.

Previous Gallup research shows that the decline of middle-class identifiers in the 2012 and 2015 surveys compared with 2008, plus the subsequent rebound in 2016 which has continued in 2017 was evident across all income levels but was more pronounced among those without a college degree.

Age is related to subjective social class, with about half of young Americans in the most recent study identifying as working or lower class, significantly more than among those who are older.

Americans 65 and older are in turn significantly more likely to identify as middle class than those who are younger.

These differences could reflect a tendency for older people to avoid the term "working class" because many are no longer employed.

Younger Americans may be less likely to identify as middle class because they are more likely to be in school, are less likely to own a home and have lower incomes - with the last of these highly related to social class identity.

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