The middle class shrinks
The hollowing of the American middle class has proceeded steadily for more than four decades. Since 1971, each decade has ended with a smaller share of adults living in middle-income households than at the beginning of the decade, and no single decade stands out as having triggered or hastened the decline in the middle.
Based on the definition used in this report, the share of American adults living in middle-income households has fallen from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2015. The share living in the upper-income tier rose from 14% to 21% over the same period. Meanwhile, the share in the lower-income tier increased from 25% to 29%. Notably, the 7 percentage point increase in the share at the top is nearly double the 4 percentage point increase at the bottom.
The rising share of adults in the lower- and upper-income tiers is at the farthest points of the income distribution, distant from the vicinity of the middle. The share of American adults in the lowest-income tier rose from 16% in 1971 to 20% in 2015. Over the same period, the share of American adults in lower-middle income households did not change, holding at 9%.
The growth at the top is similarly skewed. The share of adults in highest-income households more than doubled, from 4% in 1971 to 9% in 2015. But the increase in the share in upper-middle income households was modest, rising from 10% to 12%. Thus, the closer look at the shift out of the middle reveals that a deeper polarization is underway in the American economy.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground | Pew Research Center