Middle class shrinks in United States of America

After Great Recession, many Americans feel it difficult to realise American

WASHINGTON: A sense of belonging to the middle class occupies a cherished place in America. It conjures images of self-sufficient people with stable jobs and pleasant homes working toward prosperity.

Yet nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, more people are coming to the painful realisation that they’re no longer part of it.

They are former professionals now stocking shelves at grocery stores, retirees struggling with rising costs and people working part-time jobs but desperate for full-time pay. Such setbacks have emerged in economic statistics for several years. Now they’re affecting how Americans think of themselves.

Since 2008, the number of Americans who call themselves middle class has fallen by nearly a fifth, according to a survey in January by the Pew Research Center, from 53 per cent to 44 per cent. Forty per cent now identify as either lower-middle or lower class compared with just 25 per cent in February 2008.

According to Gallup, the per centage of Americans who say they’re middle or upper-middle class fell 8 points between 2008 and 2012, to 55 per cent.

And the most recent National Opinion Rese-arch Centre’s General Social Survey found that the vast proportion of Americans who call the-mselves middle or working class, though still high at 88 per cent, is the lowest in the survey’s 40-year history. It’s fallen 4 percentage points since the recession began in 2007. The trend reflects a widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else, one that’s emerged gradually over decades and accelerated with the Great Recession.

The difference between the income earned by the wealthiest five per cent of Americans and by a median-income household has risen 24 per cent in 30 years, according to the Census Bureau.

Whether or not people see themselves as middle class, there’s no agreed-upon definition of the term. In part, it’s a state of mind. Incomes or lifestyles that feel middle class in Kansas can feel far different in Connect-icut. People with substantial incomes often identify as middle class if they live in urban centres with costly food, housing and transportation.

In any case, individuals and families who feel they’ve slipped from the middle class are likely to spend and borrow less. Such a pullback, in turn, squeezes the economy, which is fueled mainly by consumer spending. “How they think is reflected in how they act,” said Richard Morin, a senior editor at the Pew Research Centre.

People are slow to acknowledge downward mobility. Many regard themselves as middle class even if their incomes falls well above or below the average. Experts say the rise in Americans who feel they’ve slipped below the middle class suggests something deeply rooted.

More people now think “it’s harder to achieve” the American dream than thought so several deca-des ago.

( Source : AP )
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