America’s middle class has long been viewed as a dying faction that represents the end of the “American Dream.” But according to a new report released by the U.S. Census Bureau, talk of the middle class’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. The report found that between 2015 and 2016, the U.S. median household income quietly grew 3.2 percent from $57,230 to $59,039. This makes 2016 the highest income year ever, beating 1999, which held the previous high of $58,655 (adjusted for inflation). America’s poverty rate also dropped to around 12.7 percent, the lowest since before the recession.
While America still has many lingering questions about the economy, it’s encouraging to see middle-class Americans re-emerging at a time where many believed that was an impossibility. Depending on who you ask, America’s middle-class is either dying, already dead, or never really existed in the first place. Yet these numbers suggest that for many Americans, financial stability may not be as out of reach as many previously thought.
These new numbers do not mean that everyone is experiencing the benefits of a slow, but steady economic recovery. Income inequality is still a massive issue in the U.S., beyond just the standard one percent versus 99 percent. There is a largely unspoken divide that exists between America’s top 20 percent and the bottom 80 percent, with many upper middle-class families existing comfortably in the former group. Even as the economy grows, it will often fail to have any positive effect on lower class families thanks to inflation and debt.
Whether or not the middle-class is actually experiencing a comeback may not matter as much as the fact that people think that the comeback is happening. Middle-class America has long been synonymous with success in the U.S. and studies have found that those who identify as middle-class (even if they technically aren’t) tend to be more optimistic about both their future and of the country as a whole. And hopefully, with these new numbers, Americans will continue to fake it til they make it for generations to come.