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The Shrinking Middle Class

This clip from American broadcasting network CBS news in 2015 shows that the middle class, defined as households earning between $42,000 and $126,000 a year, has shrunk from 61% to 50% between 1971 and 2017. At the same time, the upper income bracket has increased from 14% to 21%, and the percentage of U.S. income they take home has increased from 29% to 49%. Meanwhile, the lower income bracket has also increased from 16% to 20%. According to the report, the Great Recession hit the middle class the hardest with a drop in median wealth of 28% between 2001 and 2013. CBS news talks to Meredith Riley, a 37-year-old social worker and single mother of two in New Jersey, who has fallen from the middle to the lower income bracket. Her county job, where she made $50,000 a year was eliminated during the recession, and she now has to work three part time jobs for less money.

discussion

What happened to the middle class in America between 1971 and 2015? What caused the middle class to shrink in this way?

How does the report define “middle class,” and how does it relate to other income brackets?

Why does CBS news combine statistics with a human-interest story in this news clip? How does Riley’s story expand the discussion of class to include age and gender?

Are you aware of your income standing? What are some of the ways you know where you stand? If you had to tell a story about your class standing (like Riley’s), what would you include?