Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, and a distinguished fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate and visiting fellow at Florida International University.
The recession appears to have convinced many that they will never escape the working class.
The experts tell us inequality is increasing and the middle class is in decline. A new poll shows that ordinary Americans feel that way, too. According to the results of a Gallup survey released this week, just slightly more than half of Americans identified themselves as middle class (upper-middle and middle class in Gallup’s terminology).
But the trend line is the troubling part, as the chart below shows.
The share of Americans identifying as middle class ranged from 60 to 63 percent for most of last decade. But by 2012 that figure had declined sharply, to 50 percent, where it has hovered ever since. At the same time, the share of Americans identifying as lower or working-class rose from 35 percent to the current 48 percent share. The one percent seems to know it’s the one percent— just one in a hundred respondents said they were upper class.
Gallup also breaks the numbers out by income, age, education and political affiliation:
The oldest working adults report the biggest hit. Less than half of those aged 50 to 64 identify as middle class today, down from nearly two-thirds in 2008, a 16 percent drop. Those aged 30 to 49 report a similar decline, from 63 percent to 48 percent. Younger adults (ages 18 and 29) are hurting as well: 47 percent say they are middle class today, down from 55 percent in 2008. Seniors (65 and older) report the smallest drop-off: 62 percent say they are middle class versus 65 percent in 2008, a decline of just 3 percent.
Not surprisingly, the least educated were the most likely to say they’ve fallen out of the middle class. Just 29 percent of Americans without high school diplomas say they are middle class, down from 42 percent in 2008. But even college grads are less likely to identify as middle class today, 6 percent fewer than in 2008.
And while Republicans are more likely to identify as middle class than Democrats, a greater share said their class status has dropped since the economic crisis—12 percent, compared to 10 percent for Democrats.
It appears that the Great Recession prompted Americans across the board to downgrade their class status, maybe permanently. As the report notes:
This could suggest that Americans have shifted into a "new normal" way of looking at their class standing, with the Great Recession having convinced a number of Americans that they are not now, nor are they going to be, middle class -- but rather are firmly ensconced in either the working or lower class.