Less Than Half Of Americans Consider Themselves Middle Class: Poll

Slightly less than half of Americans consider themselves middle class, according to a new survey by ABC World News, and four in ten people who think they've achieved middle class status say they're struggling to keep it.

Fourteen percent of the 1,005 survey respondents say they consider themselves "upper-middle class," 39 percent working class and 45 percent middle class.

The average income for poll respondents who consider themselves middle class is about $55,000 a year. Self-described working class folks earn roughly $35,000, and those who think they're well-off earn $95,000. "But income is far from the sole determinant of self-defined middle class status, likely because family size, expenses, local costs of living and other circumstances also come into it," the poll notes. "Even among people with incomes under $25,000 a year, 41 percent describe themselves as middle class. So do 38 percent of those with household incomes over $100,000."

(There are plenty of people who do not think that a household income of $250,000 makes for a rich household, as we are reminded whenever the subject of taxes comes up. It's a state of mind.)

The Commerce Department produced a report in January for the Vice President's Middle Class Task Force that objectively measured obstacles to attaining the middle class lifestyle. That report found that it's more difficult to do than it used to be:

"While incomes for married-couple and single-parent families with two children have increased significantly, much of this rise occurred in the 1990s. In part, these increases occurred because parents are working more hours in order to maintain higher income levels," the report said.

"Unfortunately, while incomes have risen, the prices for three large components of middle class expenses have increased faster than income: the cost of college, the cost of health care and the cost of a house. Thus, we conclude that it is harder to attain a middle class lifestyle now than it was in the recent past."

Rebecca Blank, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at Commerce, told HuffPost on Monday that the increased costs of college and health care justified the administration's focus on reforming those industries.

"In general, I think that's not a very good thing at all" that it's more difficult to obtain a middle class lifestyle, she said.

For most people, homeownership is the benchmark for middle class membership, with 80 percent of ABC's poll respondents saying that owning a home is a "necessary element" of middle class life.

Part of the survey reveals how the recession disproportionately hurts the less well-off. "Underscoring the depths of the economic crisis, 28 percent of middle-income Americans say
someone in their household has been laid off or lost a job in the last year," the poll says. "That jumps even higher, to 39 percent, among lower-income Americans, and drops considerably to 16 percent of those with $100,000-plus incomes. There's a difference in impact at the low end: Less well-off people are much more apt than those who are better off to say the layoff caused them serious financial hardship."

Click here for a PDF of ABC's poll results.

Click here for a PDF of the Commerce Department's report.