Economy & Business

VIDEO: Nobody Knows What ‘Middle Class’ Means

Like — not even the government.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not President Obama’s plans for the middle class are good ones — but what’s the point if nobody even really knows what “middle class” means?

On Thursday, I ventured around New York City and asked people what they thought a middle-class household income was. I got everything from “I don’t know” to $35,000 or $150,000:

“What is a middle-class income?” happened to be one of the most Googled questions during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Rightfully so – much as the president talked about working for the middle class, the federal government has no exact definition of the phrase, which is perhaps why it’s such a popular one to throw around.

Whether because or in spite of the confusion over what the middle class is, a CNN poll found that 69 percent of the speech’s viewers felt that Obama’s proposals would be effective in helping it.

According to a 2014 Pew poll, 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as either middle, upper-middle, or lower-middle class, so lots of people understandably assume any benefits of the president’s policies would apply to them. 

In the same poll, only 1 percent said they had “no opinion,” which seems a little low when people are clearly not sure what these terms really mean.

After all, what a “middle class” income means on a national level would be pretty hard to define, wouldn’t it?

As many of the people I interviewed noted, what income makes you rich, poor, or middle-class varies dramatically based on where you live — which makes it an even trickier for the president of the whole United States to promise anything to the group.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.

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