Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
One side does slightly better than the other, in the eyes of the American public.
America’s middle class is now smaller than its upper and lower economic classes combined. And it’s not just that the middle class has contracted—its share of aggregate income has also plunged dramatically since 1970. Almost half of the country’s total income now goes to the upper classes.
To revive this pillar of the American economy, presidential hopefuls have offered their disparate solutions. But the American people aren’t so sure that politicians from either party are really looking out for middle-class interests, a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows.
Pew interviewed 1,500 adults in December 2015 about whether the U.S. government is doing enough to lift the middle tier out of its funk. An overwhelming 62 percent responded “no.” According to Pew, this grim outlook hasn’t changed much since 2011.
Americans felt that neither party prioritized the middle class, but “views of the Republican party were much less balanced,” Pew notes. While only 32 percent of respondents thought Democrats favored the middle class, similar shares thought liberals favored the rich (26 percent) and the poor (31 percent). But a striking 62 percent of respondents thought Republicans favored the rich, while only 26 percent felt they championed middle-income households. Just 2 percent thought Republicans prioritized the poor.
For respondents who identified as middle class (and this number has been decreasing over the years), the economy and national security were two top issues for government to tackle in 2016—and these priorities weren’t different from those of the country as a whole. With respect to jobs, a majority of the middle class (58 percent) and lower class (73 percent) felt that not enough good ones exist. Less than half of the self-identified upper class felt this way.
Even though 2015 was a stellar year for job growth in the U.S., those perceptions make sense because because wage growth was pretty “sluggish,” as The New York Times recently reported. So while jobs exist, there aren’t nearly enough that pay a decent livable wage going around. And ultimately, it’s middle- and low-income Americans that are really feeling the pinch.