The perception of what it takes to be in the middle class has changed dramatically over the past two decades
What criteria do Americans consider to be the most important requirement for being in the middle class?
For nearly nine-in-ten adults (86 percent) surveyed by Pew Research Center, it is a secure job.
Two-thirds (66 percent) said it is having health insurance, while less than half (45 percent) said it was owning a home. Just over one-third (37 percent) said it was earning a college education.
This is no doubt a reflection of the stagnant economic recovery and a job market about which Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last week expressed “grave concern.”
Pew notes that the perception of what it takes to be in the middle class has changed dramatically over the past two decades. In a 1991 nationwide poll conducted by Time/CNN/Yankelovich, 70 percent of respondents said that owning a home was essential to being considered middle class. Having a white collar job was cited by just one-third (33 percent).
(Pew notes that that variance in responses between the two surveys may be in the wording. “A white collar job,” which was used in the 1991 survey “is arguably a less inclusive and compelling a choice than ‘a secure job,’ Pew said.)
Two decades ago, nearly half of Americans said that owning two or more cars was the ticket to the middle class, while 46 percent said it was a college education.
In the 2012 survey, men and women are of the same mind when it comes to what they consider to be the most important requirements to be considered middle class. The only exception, Pew found, was that women were more likely than men to say a college education (40 percent vs. 34 percent).
While the importance of a secure job and health insurance (which is one of the benefits of employment) is accepted by Americans of all races, Pew found, but adults of difference races and ethnic backgrounds placed a higher value on other criteria they consider to be required to be considered middle class. Compared with blacks and whites, Hispanics most prized homeownership (63 percent), a college education (61 percent) and investments (46 percent). Blacks, Pew found, are less likely than Hispanics to consider these items as necessities to the middle class, but they are more likely than whites to think so.
Earlier this year, Millionaire Corner surveyed affluent households on their vision of the American Dream. More than six-in-ten said it meant equal opportunity for all as well as retirement security. For 56 percent, it was educational opportunity, while 51 percent said that job security personifies the American Dream.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.