Reuters/Jim Young

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.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Why Amsterdam May Clamp Down on Weed and Sex Work

    Proposals to ban cannabis for tourists and relocate the red-light district would dramatically reshape the city’s anything-goes image.

  2. photo: Cranes on the skyline in Oakland, California
    Life

    How to Make a Housing Crisis

    The new book Golden Gates details how California set itself up for its current affordability crunch—and how it can now help build a nationwide housing movement.

  3. photo: bicyclists in Paris during a transit strike in December.
    Transportation

    Paris Mayor: It's Time for a '15-Minute City'

    In her re-election campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that every Paris resident should be able to meet their essential needs within a short walk or bike ride.

  4. animated illustration: cars, bikes, scooters and drones in motion.
    Transportation

    This City Was Sick of Tech Disruptors. So It Decided to Become One.

    To rein in traffic-snarling new mobility modes, L.A. needed digital savvy. Then came a privacy uproar, a murky cast of consultants, and a legal crusade by Uber.

  5. Design

    How We Map Epidemics

    Cartographers are mapping the coronavirus in more sophisticated ways than past epidemics. But visualizing outbreaks dates back to cholera and yellow fever.

×