Whether it’s where you came from, where you’re at, or someplace you aspire to (or hope to avoid) you don’t have to feel the Bern to be thinking about the middle class. But with it shrinking faster than your mother in law, and with the cost of living varying wildly from coast to coast, it can be difficult to define what “it” even is. Or, it was, until the PEW Research Center created a calculator that does just that.
The tool takes into account the median income level of your region and then, based on your household size and total income, determines if you’re in the region’s upper, middle, or lower income tier. It also shows you what percentage of the region’s population is in which tier, and compares that to the national average. Start punching different numbers into different regions, and you’ll quickly gain an appreciation for how much “middle class” varies from place to place — it starts as low as $42,000 and goes as high as $125,000.
For instance, the Office Of Management and Budget cites the cost of living in Jackson, TN is 17 percent less than the national average, whereas the Honolulu, HI metropolitan area is 22.5 percent above the national average. That means a person living in Jackson would only need to make $34,600 annually to qualify as middle class, while someone in Honolulu would need to make $51,000. And here you were thinking Hawaii would be a nicer place to live than Tennessee. For additional information, the second part of the process asks more specific questions about age, race, ethnicity, and marital status to show how demographically similar adults stack up in comparison. This section won’t change your standing, but it might give you something to trash talk to your neighbor about.
Overall, 51 percent of people in the U.S. qualified for the middle income economic tier, compared to 29 percent for the lower, and 20 percent for the higher. Though the odds of you being a part of the middle aren’t what they used to be (it was 62 percent in the 1970s), the upper income tier has grown faster than the lower since then, which is a sign of economic progress overall. So figure out where your family stands (there’s even a global version for those living internationally), and if you’re still not happy with the results, go back to using a regular calculator. At least you can type “boobs” on those like the good old days.
[H/T] PEW Research Center