In this presidential campaign, like others before it, several candidates describe themselves as champions of the middle class — a group their rivals have supposedly forgotten.
Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign appealed to “the forgotten middle class.” Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign bus is called “The Middle Class Express.” She says, “America’s middle-class families have been invisible” to President Bush. “For middle-class Americans,” she pledges to “extend the tax cuts including the child tax credit, the marriage penalty relief, and lower income tax rates that they currently pay.” Ironically, all of those tax cuts were enacted in 2003 by a president accused of forgetting the middle class.
No politician could possibly forget the middle class, because that’s where the votes are.
A recent CBS polls defined middle class as those with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000. Yet that amounted to only 44 percent of those who described themselves as middle class to CBS pollsters. In reality, we can’t know tell if $75,000 buys a lot or a little unless we ask whether that refers to single-person households or large families and whether they live in Honolulu or Little Rock.
Polls tell us that nearly everyone with incomes from $30,000 to $200,000 think of themselves as middle class. That encompasses 73 percent of all families, with fewer than 5 percent earning more.
Median household income in 2006 was $48,200. That figure was still slightly below the cyclical peak of 2000, which was not unusual. Median income did not get back to the peak of 1989 until 1996.
Besides, “median household” does not mean typical family. There were nearly 115 million households last year — including many young singles and elderly widows. There were only 59 million married couples; only 21 million with children under 18.